let’s talk about mid-life career changes

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I would love a whole post on mid-life career changes! Especially if people are willing to share their specific fields.

I tried to quit accounting and become a TV writer around age 29 and found that I was already too old, given the competitive field and the fact that I wanted to start a family, which I have since done. I’ve progressed in my accounting career and have found some intellectual satisfaction, but I still fantasize about doing something more interesting or glamorous.

Let’s do it. People who successfully changed careers — or who tried and ran into challenges — this is an invitation to share your stories and advice in the comments. Please name your field(s), if you’re willing to.

{ 684 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon Anon*

    This is a great question. I have a lot of friends in the hotel and hospitality industries (they are meeting planners, event managers, sales managers, etc.) who have lost their jobs, and those jobs are probably not coming back in any sort of meaningful way for years, if ever.

    1. MP*

      This is what I’m struggling with. I’m 31, have been at my company since 2012 when I graduated college, so my entire experience and work history is in the meetings and events industry. I’m furloughed at the moment, but not optimistic my old job will ever come back.

      In addition, my role relies heavily on soft skills and knowledge of the industry and client, so I’m worried I won’t be able to easily translate my experience to another industry, like say a software engineer or accountant might.

      1. suddenly seymour*

        Have you thought about/have any interest in development or fundraising? The soft skills you mention may translate really well, as those are also fields that rely heavily on relationship development, networking, communication, and connections. As a bonus, there are definitely positions with an event component as well!

        1. Lizzo*

          +100 to this! If you have soft skills and you’re good at them, fundraising and development would be excellent. Sponsorship might also be a good option.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          This, plus I have worked with a few people with meeting/event planning backgrounds, and they tend to be extremely organized, have exceptional attention to detail, and are great at customer/service and follow-up, all of which translate to a number of other contexts.

        3. Jessica*

          Yup – I know quite a few development events employees who came from hospitality.

      2. Sandra*

        My sister-in-law successfully moved from event planning to fundraising and emergency management for her local Red Cross a few years ago. A lot of the skills are transferable. I would also look into fields like logistics or sales.

        1. AVP*

          I’m a producer, was going to suggest that! It’s a hard field but I feel like the skills are the same.

          This second suggestion is wildly dependent on geography, but you could also go into content production and advertising if there’s a market for that where you live. I’ve done both and I can say that content production is a lot harder than events (how is that possible, you ask? I know. It really is though.) It will also be harder to break into now that it’s been put on hold and there’s a push to make crew sizes smaller, but content will bounce back in a way that IRL events might not, and will bounce back quickly. And there are a ton of freelance opportunities there so you wouldn’t have to commit to it but would still be able to make money while we see what else happens.

      3. Nethwen*

        Soft skills are hugely needed in public libraries. If you’re good at de-escalating tense situations or helping disgruntled customers leave feeling better, but not bending policy to do that, then you have skills public libraries need. The big downside is that most jobs are part-time and the pay generally is below market for other customer-service jobs and there are seldom benefits for PT, but the upside is that there is a huge need for people who can demonstrate how they’ve used customer-focused soft skills. If you have those soft skills and have successfully completed multiple projects at once, sometimes with the projects having contradictory priorities, then you’ve got highly desired skills for public library work.

        1. Jane*

          Genuine question: what’s the job market like for librarians/library assistants in the US?

          In the UK it’s become incredibly competitive – government austerity has removed many of the professional library posts in the public library service, and replaced paraprofs with volunteers. I’ve noticed a very significant downturn in the number of vacancies in the last decade across all library sectors, and a lack of turnover too – once you get a job, you hang on to it. Is it the same in other countries?

          1. Lepidoptera*

            Not U.S.
            In my area there’s a lot of contract, part-time and mat-leave work in libraries, archives, and other library adjacent areas. Partially because it’s cheaper for the org if they don’t have to hand out pensions and healthcare, but in the long run that’s not sustainable. It causes a lot of burnout for people who are desperately trying to out do one another for coveted spots of full-time permanent status that we were consistently promised would be vacated by the time we graduated from our MLIS because the Boomers were going to be retiring any moment now. . . . :/

          2. Sydney Folk*

            In my locale (Western Canada) it is extremely competitive. You must have a master’s. Even the lovely program coordinators at my small-town library have incredible education and credentials.

          3. Going Full Boyle*

            My experience is in public libraries in the US, specifically youth services. The job market for me has been all about luck. You need to have a Master’s degree in library science to qualify for a librarian position, but most of them are part time without benefits. You generally work multiple part time jobs until the magical full time job opens up, and you maybe get it. I can guarantee that you will be underpaid compared to other positions that require Master’s degrees. For instance, in the city government that I work for, my pay scale is the same as an Office Manager position, which requires an Associate’s degree. Obviously that is a very important job and they deserve the salary, but the discrepancy in education requirements is demoralizing.

            But right now things are uncertain in libraries due to the pandemic. The library where I lived has furloughed almost the entire staff. And local governments tend to cut library funds when budget season rolls around. I would not enter the library job market at this time if I could help it. However, if you do, look for high income communities for a higher salary.

            1. Sandan Librarian*

              Your first paragraph definitely described my first several years working in the library field after earning my MLS in 2014. I cannot help but second your advice not to enter the library job market at this time, even though I love my work.

          4. Nethwen*

            It really depends on the location. As others have said, the pandemic has required many layoffs and it’s likely that any new hiring will be part-time. Even in the best of times, the pay is low, the jobs are primarily part-time with no benefits, and funding is largely dependent on local government, so the library is competing with schools and law enforcement for funds. Depending on the location, the scheduling can be as erratic as retail or it can be set from week to week, making it either almost impossible or very easy to have a second job. Because of all this, public libraries often end up hiring who they can get, not who would be best for the job because the people who would be best don’t apply to low-paying part-time jobs.

            As a side note, there are 501(c)3 public libraries. I don’t have experience there, but from what I’ve gathered, they are even lower paid and even the full-time positions might not even get health insurance, never mind retirement or other benefits. I also don’t have experience in large, urban, or multi-locality libraries, so anything I say relating to them is based on what my colleagues tell me.

            As an example of the ridiculously low pay, I know of one library director that is responsible for two locations and has to work with two separate local governments. Their salary is in the mid-$50,000. Someone else I know works at a large national financial institution. They told me that their no-experience, right-out-of-undergrad starting pay is in the mid-upper $60,000. On the part-time side, the retail and warehouse work around here is between $11 – $15. We start our PT at $12 and we are one of the highest paying libraries for PT among similarly-financed public libraries in our part of the state.

            On the plus side, unless you are in a department head/management type position, typically, you can leave work at work and be mentally free when you get home, unless you’re the type to take customer interactions personally and brood or if you have bad management that doesn’t support you. Of course, each library culture is different. It is also a very transportable profession – all U.S. states have public libraries (even if they aren’t all hiring all the time). If you work in a public library, it is almost certain that you will have your hands in a variety of projects – the smaller the library, the more likely that you will do unrelated things or that you can use your personal interests in your job, even if it’s not part of the official job description.

            There are a lot of downsides to working in a public library and I’m on something of a personal mission to change impressions about what the job is like. I am not one of those who believe library work is a world-changing mission or that democracy will fall apart if public libraries stop existing. I do believe that we need to be open about the difficulties – you will interact with disgruntled customers regularly. You will be blamed for things outside your control (get used to people being angry with you because you don’t know a patron’s e-mail password or you can’t connect their device to their home wifi when they are standing in the library). Depending on the location, you may regularly have mentally ill people threatening to kill the person they see right then (who happens to be you).

            In my opinion, the profession would be better off if we advertised open positions accurately, stopping the feel-good, higher-purpose marketing and if people refused to take the low paying jobs. Let the library close due to lack of staff. If the public loves their library so much, they should pay a reasonable wage and provide full-time jobs with benefits. Part-time should be the exception. I believe that experience is more important than education. One of the best front-line workers I hired only had a HS diploma and no library experience, but their bar-tending experience and personality made them excellent for the position. People who earned a masters feel defensive at the suggestion that their jobs could be done without the degree. People feel sentimental about libraries and don’t want to go through the difficulties to make working conditions better. Many also do not understand the administrative and managerial tasks required, including meeting federal reporting mandates, and erroneously believe that libraries can be run by volunteers. And libraries let themselves rely on volunteers because few are willing to advocate for closing in order to improve working conditions. I’m preaching heresy here and do understand the difficulties (who wants to lose their job and have to change professions so that hopefully, maybe, one day, things might sort of possibly be better?) and so will stop writing, but hopefully, this gives anyone considering the profession things to investigate more as they decide if the profession is a good match for what they want out of a job.

          5. Booknerd*

            I transitioned from museum manager in my 20s and 30s (which required a Master’s) to school librarian in my early 40s (which also requires a Master’s–a different one!). So yes, I have too many letters after my name…
            The job market for school librarians is really fluctuating right now. Districts like mine that see librarians as information specialists who can help tremendously with distance learning and tech issues have been hanging on to us with both hands. And they’ve been getting the best of my wide-ranging training and skills, let me tell you! Meanwhile, districts with more traditional views of a librarian’s role seem to have been eliminating some of their library positions.
            I don’t know that I would recommend this field to someone who is just starting out, but those of us who are ready to innovate and stay flexible seem to have a fairly solid future.

        2. Lepidoptera*

          And if you want to be called “librarian” you need a masters in library and information science.

        3. Library School Dropout*

          I don’t really feel the library field is that great for mid-life career changers. Aside from being extremely competitive with too many jobs offered having odd hours and/or being only part-time, even for rather technical jobs that required a lot of specialized knowledge. I found it to be rather ageist, a bit sexist, and, surprising to me, a bit racist and homophobic. OTOH, there did seem to regularly be openings for librarians in the local prison library.

          I was especially surprised by one of my former classmates, a middle-aged black man who had been working as a teacher and who wanted to work as a school librarian. He had also applied for jobs at public libraries, but was unable to find work in the library field. He was still teaching the last I heard, several years after getting his MLIS. I thought he seemed like a posterchild for the kind of person you’d want to hire to create a diverse workplace, but apparently not.

          There was a lawyer who went on to work in a law library and a couple of nurses who found work in medical libraries in large urban hospitals. There was also a person who found work as an “information broker” where she utilized the research skills, especially with specialized databases, that she learned in library school.

          In the library systems in the several towns I’ve lived in, most of the people who actually get hired are “terminally perky” young women. (And I know this sounds bad to say, but a lot of them weren’t particularly intelligent and had to ask for help from their co-workers for anything other than basic questions.) Unless you already have a job in a library, or unless you’re still in your 20s or maybe early 30s, I wouldn’t bother.

          1. Bunny Doesn't Work Here Anymore*

            I agree. The people who are hiring in libraries now seem to prefer young and hip (or hip-nerdy; interesting hair, hipster glasses, and literary tats are a must for today’s up-and-coming Mover and Shaker) to people with, y’know, actual experience in the field. Jobs that 15 years ago, when the older Baby Boomers were starting to retire, would have gone to a middle-aged Boomer with 20 years’ experience, are going to people fresh out of library school; employers are skipping right over Gen X and even older Millennials. I know so many people who are stuck in library jobs they thought were transitional–mid-level jobs that should have been launchpads to directorships or deanships–but those jobs have been going to people 10-15 years younger without any of the experience that my generation was told we needed to get into administration.

            So yeah, I would say that if you’re over 35, don’t bother with library school. It’s expensive, you won’t learn much (how many library schools are either provisionally accredited or have just barely squeaked through accreditation?), and it is not the path to a solid midlife career change that it used to be.

      4. jamberoo*

        I transitioned from retail and medical front office work to Sales Operations in a tech startup that is now multiple sizes bigger than when I came on six years ago. I had no experience in Salesforce, didn’t know what the product was, and had never had a desk job before. The way I see it, I was lucky to get in when we were still very small, and the initial position I held was brand new, forged from desperate need to remove work from sales reps, and so I dug in and eventually expanded my value by seeing what else I could take on or improve upon in order to help the sales reps focus on sales instead of data input and the like.

        In my interview I highlighted my soft skills a lot, but also managed to impress upon them how capable and fast-learning I was working with software systems, even though I’d never had to heavily do so on the job.

        My takeaway that I tell people is, it was worth the chance going for something that felt out of my league but was at a still forming entity; at the time the company was still figuring out how much work was needed and how many people they needed in order to cover it. I’ve written my own job description and position three times since, as we continue to evolve, and I’ve hired numerous people into the positions behind me.

        It was a ton of luck (a former retail manager worked there and recommended me) but it showed me leaps are possible. I wish you the best!

      5. Anon Anon*

        I get that. I have a lot of technical information that is very industry specific. However, keep in mind a lot of your skills, the attention to detail, the ability to work with multiple types of personalities, the fact that you have to successfully juggle multiple stakeholders on multiple projects are all very transferable to other industries.

        When we hire someone where I work, I don’t look for the technical experience. It’s hard to find, and that information I can train someone to do. I look for all those other skills that take time to learn, and at least I find are very difficult challenging to teach (and honestly some people never get it). Plus, keep in mind if you’ve had to move a meeting from a live to virtual platform this year, those skills will be more in demand. It’s something that I think more groups will be doing moving forward.

      6. MissDisplaced*

        Project Management
        The thing the meeting and event planners are all good at is project management, so there might be a way to utilize those skills in other areas, such as logistics, manufacturing, construction or software.

        I work in marketing and as such have a fair bit of experience with the events industry. It is SO HUGE!
        There are many adjacent fields that provide services to the events industry, from design of booths, to onsite construction to catering. I feel bad for all those people, because yeah, the Big Trade Shows may not come back for a really long time, if at all. It’s sad. I really loved going to them and exhibiting.

      7. Koala dreams*

        Accounting also needs soft skills. Especially if you work as a consultant, you’ll need to build and keep relationships with clients. Previous work experience in other fields is a great background if you want to be an accountant. You do need additional education, such as a vocational degree/course (I guess that would be community college in the US?) or a B.A. in accounting. For larger companies, the education requirements can be rather high, smaller companies often have looser requirements.

        There are of course many other jobs where your experience can be useful. Keep trying!

      8. Ellen*

        If I were you, I’d look into some of the companies that are making online events possible, since there are a bunch that have seen a surge of business since the pandemic started (not just Zoom but things like Crowdcast and Hopin and WorkCast). I have no doubt some of the events being hosted there will go back to in-person when it’s practical, but I bet online events will be a much bigger part of the world going forward. Someone with meetings/events experience could be really useful for a tech company that’s trying to make a platform that works for their clients.

      9. aglaia761*

        I successfully moved from meeting planning for nonprofits/associations to digital marketing for nonprofits/associations as a consultant/agency. I fully transitioned in 2014, but had been moving in that direction since 2010

        If you find the right agency, your skills would be great for project management. There are a lot of industry niche marketing agencies out there.

        If you’re willing to do the work, getting some skills in the tactical parts of marketing would help. I went back to school for a 2nd bachelors, it helps because I’m able to advise on marketing strategy, But I don’t think you necessarily have to do that. Digital Marketer Lab+ is a great resource to get you up to date on digital marketing strategy and terms. It’s $99 a month, but the courses are well worth it. You can cancel once you’ve taken all of the courses.

        Depending on your writing and communications skills, you can also move into messaging and copywriting. There are several copywriting frameworks out there, such as Storybrand and AIDA, FAB etc. But no matter what a good copywriter is worth their weight in gold.

      10. Popsicle Person*

        I’m having a similar problem. I’ve been teaching middle school since straight out of college and I adore my students, but I do feel that there must be other fulfilling jobs that don’t require quite this level of late night take home work and complete investment of my heart. I have been thinking of going to grad school for education because I might enjoy teaching teachers (and can’t without a post BA degree regardless of my experience), but I’m not sure if that is actually a useful thing or even a worthwhile stall while I find out what else is out there. I love school, and research and writing. Any advice? I love what I do but don’t want to burn out, and I feel it coming.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Why don’t you look into instructional design? That way, you can keep your foot in education and use your research and writing skills to help train the next generation of teachers.

        2. Cascadia*

          Ugh, I personally would not recommend going into acadamia. If you want to teach the teachers at a university level that’s going to require a PhD and a lot of luck getting a faculty position.

        3. Kellie*

          Popsicle Person: What about working with a TRIO Upward Bound or TRIO Educational Talent Search program? Same age group, also education-related, but less constant work (at least as far as I’d guess from observation). I work for TRIO SSS (the college version) – it isn’t big bucks, but it pays the bills, and I really like it.

          1. Kellie*

            (If you teach middle school, Talent Search is the better match for age group. Upward Bound is high school.)

    2. Where There is a Will*

      My husband is in a similar space. He’s worked in corporate events for over 14 years. He’s not sure what he wants to do, but we are almost certain waiting it out to continue in his current career won’t be feasible. He’s thought about starting his own business, but I’m scared of the risk.

      1. Jo*

        I’ve done career changes twice now – I spent my first 10 years working in software and database development, primarily in finance then, wanting to do something that felt less evil, I moved into primary school teaching.

        10 years later, I was burned out by the exhausting job requirements of teaching and missing the intellectual challenge do I decided to go back into software, although now am working on customer rewards systems in a small marketing agency.

        In both cases, I’d say it was key to doing well in interviews that I did a lot of thinking beforehand about both the push and the pull factors behind the change I wanted to make. Key to getting interviews was making sure my CV focused on what transferable skills I could bring over to the new role from the other industry.

        Good luck to anyone making the leap!

    3. boop the first*

      No events or meetings for years? That’s a grim assessment.
      The idea that WFH was going to be the new normal, giving folks with disabilities a chance to achieve new career goals seemed like such a given, but yesterday’s update kind of nipped that hope in the bud. It really makes me doubt that literally ANYTHING will be different about life and society within the next few months.

      1. Susie Q*

        Just because the country does one thing, doesn’t mean companies will follow suit.

        My company just moved all of our conference to virtual environments and we won’t be participating in any in person conferences through the rest of 2020. Most of the conferences in my field have been moved to 2021 or moved online.

        1. alienor*

          Agree–my company does lots of events in addition to other marketing, and everything has shifted to virtual at least through the end of this year. Unless something totally unexpected happens, I would be very surprised if we hosted a large in-person event before autumn 2021 at the earliest. Small regional ones maybe, but nothing that involves long-distance travel or groups of 500+ people coming together.

      2. Quinalla*

        Disagree, most people are not going to be comfortable going to an event or conference of the type hosted at hotels, etc. until there is a vaccine. And that doesn’t mean a vaccine has been discovered, it means it has wide distribution (which will take long than people realize) and usually at least a month after that for immunity. So yes, easily 2 years, I think anyone scheduling things in an indoor venue for 2021 is still being pretty optimistic. Outdoor venues are more feasible for sure.

      3. Anon Anon*

        Large scale events or meetings (of 3k-4K+)? I think they will be few and far between.

        Almost everyone I know in the industry are planning to go virtual for 2020. Industry experts have estimated the live attendance this year might be 20-40% of what it is in a normal year. Combine abnormally low attendance with significantly higher costs for groups (because now you need to pay for double or triple the space, and that doesn’t include providing masks, hand sanitation stations, or a lot more AV, etc.), I don’t think many groups can afford to offer live meetings. For many groups it will be more cost effective to just pay a cancellation fee.

        And I also think we have to be realistic about when a vaccine will be available and administered to enough people for us to achieve some sort of herd immunity. The industry will adapt, but I think the consequences of what has happened is going to change the industry permanently, and will take years to recover from.

        It’s a grim assessment, but I think realistic.

        1. Lifelong student*

          In addition- many companies will find that they can achieve more value at a lower cost by virtual conferences. In my field- accounting- there has been a huge move to on-line professional education and conferences over the years- as a way to extend reach and manage costs. The costs are decreased for the providers ( although the fees do not seem to have decreased significantly!) and have also decreased for the participants. With the move to more use of virtual meetings, I think this will be more of a norm in the future.

          1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

            My husband’s field was starting to move away from conferences because of the carbon emissions of flying. It’s highly likely that all of the virtual conferences will go well enough that many people will not opt to return to in-person conferences, period.

            1. Missing the office*

              “It’s highly likely that all of the virtual conferences will go well enough that many people will not opt to return to in-person conferences, period.”

              This is wrong. There is a reason that investment conferences charge $1-3 K per ticket: the networking and business development opportunities. These will be back as soon as the health risks are minimal.

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                Eh. I work for a medium-sized software company that just released the numbers for our first major virtual conference (that was originally slated as an in-person event) – the numbers blew past expectations. In fact, we got double the attendance in one region than was usual. There were breakout sessions within breakout sessions so attendees could still network with others, and the feedback we received was that people were excited to do more of these events going forward because they could do it from the comfort of their own home and didn’t have to deal with jet lag and traveling costs.

          2. Anon Anon*

            I don’t think virtual conferences will ever completely replace live events. Face-to-face is still can’t be completely replaced by something like zoom. However, I tend to think what will happen is that there will be fewer large in person events, and many more small virtual events. The ROI on virtual events is likely going to better especially if sponsors feel that it’s more cost effective to sponsor part of a virtual event.

      4. alienor*

        It’s way too soon to know what the next few months are going to bring, IMO. If everything opens and the impact is on the lesser end of the scale–deaths tick up, but stay under whatever local governments decide is an “acceptable” number–then we might end up with business as usual. On the other hand, there’s also a possibility that everything will open, things will look fine for a couple of months while people are busily infecting each other, and then in September there will be a big second wave and employers will have to admit that forcing people back into offices wasn’t a good idea. (Or maybe not, because another possibility, and unfortunately a likely one, is that the definition of “acceptable number” will just get revised upward as deaths increase.)

      5. AVP*

        I agree that it sounds grim but that’s mostly what we’re hearing in the events industry. There are so many things that need to fall into place (insurance policies that take the pandemic into account, corporations feeling confident enough to resume sponsorships, air travel feeling safe…) and then it’s 6-12 months for planning.

        That said I think there’ll be a market for hybrid events where you have maybe 50 or less people IRL and then the rest is virtual, as soon as the fall…

        But the Venice Film Festival intends to go on as planned in early September so I’m watching that closely!

      6. Missing the office*

        “WFH was going to be the new normal…”

        Work from home is not going to be the new normal once the pandemic truly subsides. Back in 2008 there were people who said there would never be an investment banking industry again. They were spectacularly wrong. “Work from home is the future” is today’s equivalent.

    4. Not an event planner*

      I was reading something about this yesterday and I am grateful to not be in event planning. If we have a resurgence of the virus in the fall, most of this year could be wiped out for the industry. Are there opportunities in virtual event planning?

      1. Lynn*

        I was just thinking this! I am attending a virtual conference this week and it seems like the facilitation a virtual conferences is going to be a big business

      2. Anon Anon*

        I think many people who still have jobs are transitioning to that type of planning. I think unfortunately though, it requires different skills and it’s not going to be a good fit for many event planners. It is also not going to be helpful for many of those people who work in large event spaces (hotels and convention centers). And I also think that event planners like staff in HR are often one of the first to be cut, because there is the misconception that those duties can easily be reassigned to others.

      3. Jennifer Strange*

        I work in fundraising, with my position focusing on special events*, and we’ve pivoted our planned Gala to an online event which will now be free for all. Thankfully, so far no one who had already signed on as a sponsor has backed out (and we’re working on special opportunities just for them to thank them). Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

        *While not meant to be the main focus of my position, I came into it with a great deal of knowledge and experience with the database the organization had just converted to. I’ve become known and depended upon for my abilities there as well) so thankfully even if special events take a hit I feel mostly comfortable on my job stability as there are still things I can do that no one else really can.

      4. AVP*

        There are, but not nearly as many as have been wiped out from IRL events. IME it’s also impossible to get anyone to pay for virtual events (I get that, I don’t want to pay for them either) but that really diminishes the potential for it to me a money-making endeavor as opposed to a hobby/side gig for people already working at the companies hosting.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          IME it’s also impossible to get anyone to pay for virtual events

          It isn’t in mine. I work in an industry that has an industry body that charges non-members for attendance at their virtual events, and people sign up and pay for them. Many of those people then convert over to a paid membership, which is more expensive, so that they can attend virtual events and do certifications for either no cost or at significantly reduced rates.

      5. Jennifer Strange*

        Just to add: Steppenwolf did a free virtual Gala earlier this month (I think the video is still available) and The Public Theatre is doing one next Monday if anyone was interested in seeing what a virtual event can look like.

      6. Bluesboy*

        I work in investment banking in Europe, there are quite a lot of investment conferences for funds to meet company management, principally in my field in London, Frankfurt, Paris and Milan.

        Since the coronavirus started, we have actually seen more people signing up for conferences, because they could just meet with one or two interesting companies, where maybe it wouldn’t have been worth flying to a different city unless you were going to meet at least five or six. Admittedly, we have had a few no shows, which are obviously less likely when people have travelled there. Still, I suspect that while the in-person conferences will come back (primarily because of networking), I do think there will be space for entirely virtual meetings.

    5. Jill*

      Fundraising is also taking a huge hit because of events like these not being able to happen, at least in the non-profit circles I work in.

      1. Sandi*

        Plus people are reluctant to donate as much because their jobs are less certain, while the need has often increased. It’s hard for charities these days.

        1. Nicotene*

          On the other hand, nonprofits will likely have to hire fundraisers to help them rebuild, and in my experience they cut programs down in tough times!!

    6. Steveo*

      Last week I attended an online conference. There is still lots of scheduling, moderating, dealing with sponsors, etc that goes on. I’m not claiming that this will be a perfect match for anyone or offer anywhere near the pay, but it might be a good time to see if any non-commercial online events need volunteers if you are furloughed to get some experience.

      1. Ama*

        I work for a nonprofit that was going to hire an event planner prior to the pandemic (and we still will because it’s badly needed and we already have the position funded for the next few years). We actually just tweaked the job description to include management of virtual events or hybrids (since our events are for healthcare professionals that audience may have travel restrictions from their employers for longer than the general public).

        I’ve been having meetings about converting several of our regular meetings to digital and it really is still a lot of work — sure you don’t have catering or venue issues to deal with, but the additional tech coordination required means you really are putting in the same amount of planning hours.

        1. Anon Anon*

          It’s a ton of work. I think unfortunately though that the skills needed are a little different. So that it’s going to be something that will be more appealing and more suited to those event planners who like technology and are interested in the integration of technology into all events. Depending on the organization, those kind of events now may be given to the hands of an IT or LMS staff.

      2. old curmudgeon*

        For folks who are interested specifically in learning about planning/putting on virtual events, and who have the wherewithal to be able to volunteer, I’d suggest checking out science fiction conventions. They take place all over the world, year-round, can range from a few hundred attendees and maybe a few dozen separate events to tens of thousands of attendees and hundreds of different events, and they are all volunteer-run.

        Many this spring and summer have cancelled outright, of course, but many others are transforming to online virtual events. One such is the Nebula Awards Conference this coming weekend. WorldCon in August has also decided to go completely virtual.

        If you have planning/organization skills and soft skills that make you adept at dealing successfully with a wide range of personality types, you may find that volunteering on the committee of a virtual science fiction convention could give you some excellent experience that could translate into a real-world paying job. Some committees will give employment references upon request as well.

    7. Kimmybear*

      I did a lot of event planning in a previous life (now I do software training) and there are some elements that will go away but others that will just transform. For example, if you are working in the catering side of large events that is very different than working in registration or sponsorship or marketing which will be different but not gone for live events. The key will be to make sure your tech skills are up to date. Learn about different registration platforms as well as meeting hosting platforms for example. Research what associations are doing for their large online events. Good luck.

    8. A Cat named Brian*

      Both my sister and I have changed careers. We did so in our mid thirties when we had young children. I went from mechanical engineering to STEM program management. I’m now and ED in the parish school system. She has journalism degrees and did marketing but is now and ED in Construction MGMT non profit. Both of these were our side line gigs through our first 15 Ys or so of our careers.

    9. Adele*

      Project manager. A lot of the skills are transferable and the need for attention to detail, organiztion, and, often, people skills are the same as for event planners. Getting PM certification helps but is not mandatory. And there are project managers in all sorts of industries and they don’t neecessarily require a deep and technical knowledge of the field.

    10. WorkingGirl*

      Yeah, I have a lot of friends in similar roles. I have no idea what their futures will look like.

  2. CBH*

    I’ve gone through similar situations. I’m in my early 40s. I satisfied that longing by doing volunteer work in my dream position. Could you write for a local theater company? I also did freelance/ hobbies that on a local low key basis to mirror my dream goal with hopes that doing it part time I could eventually make a career out of it while balancing work family fun etc. I also worked on getting my dream 9to5 position so I had a steady paycheck. While I was looking for a change, at least I was working on my favorite tasks in my field! I’m still in process but I am slowly reaching my career goal.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Could you write for a local theater company?

      Playwriting is different than television writing, but OP, if you have a public access TV station in your area, go to them and ask if you can rent out a small studio and write/produce your own show. That’s what a friend and I did after I graduated from college – the show went nowhere, but it gave me the experience of writing 30 minute segments and figuring out the production angle of doing public access broadcasting.

      1. Lynn*

        Honestly youtube is also a good place is take-off now too. Julie Nolke is a Canadian actress who has built her own acting resume doing videos (it’s not vlogging — it’s basically her own one-woman version of College Humor)

        1. Steveo*

          The downside of the youtube idea is that this person wanted to be a writer and not a performer – which are truly different.

          1. Lynn*

            While it is more common that this is done by writer-performers, there is no rule that someone can’t write and work with performers; the real point was that the OP can find their own forum for writing

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              This – OP can write her own TV series and advertise at her local community college or universities for actors to audition to perform her work. She just needs to think outside of the box because the traditional route into television writing is going to be a huge obstacle right now.

        2. Van Wilder (OP)*

          I tried for a few years. A friend and I co-created a YouTube series that never caught on. We mostly financed it ourselves and also raised a meager amount from friends and family through an Indiegogo campaign, which I appreciated but I also kind of felt self-indulgent and too old to be asking for handouts to “follow my dreams.” We also wrote and produced a half hour pilot that was not accepted into the few festivals we entered it into, although I still love it. I also wrote a few “spec scripts” which was the type of writing sample you were supposed to have at the time. I took a TV writing class, sketch writing class, and lots of improv classes. I made so many great friends through improv that I am still close with.

          But, life got busy. I work in public accounting which has weeks of 50-80 hours for about half the year. The other half of the year is relatively slow and once in a while I dust off my writing iPad for a couple weeks. I also have a 10-month-old and a 3-year-old, so mostly that writing iPad is used by my older daughter to FaceTime everyone she knows.

          I have no regrets. I still wish I could be a TV writer but I’m focusing on my accounting career right now. But producing the scripts that I wrote with my writing partner are some of my fondest memories. It is so satisfying to hear a talented actor bring words that you wrote to life. And the cast and crew got really close, just like those high school drama club memories.

          But I still love to hear others’ successful career change stories.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Best of luck, OP. Maybe when your kids get a little older you can get back to it and give it another shot.

            1. NOM AAM*

              I think you should try it again — but don’t hold back because you are “too old to be asking for handouts.” That was setting up the project for failure!

          2. Hoping for Wonder*

            29 is not too old to become a TV writer! I sold my first freelance script at 35, and staffed on my first show at 38. And I got my own network show on the air at 46. And I got married and had 3 kids along the way. Really, as long as you have the talent to write a great script and the persistence not to give up, you can break in at any age… but the one thing that makes the difference either way is ACCESS: you have to live in Los Angeles, and you have to make relationships with people in the industry who can help you get the jobs. If you’re in LA, it’s easy enough to gain access, by taking a job as an assistant or PA on a show. But in order to do that, you’ll have to resign yourself to super-long hours (which it sounds like you already have) and super-low pay, which might be harder with a family. It certainly makes it easier if you have a spouse who earns enough to off-set your low pay — and once you actually start selling scripts, it pays very well and makes up for the leaner times… (You can also meet industry people other ways — at parties, networking events, etc. But unfortunately, the jobs they’ll be able to help you get will tend to be PA or assistant jobs — you generally do need to “pay your dues” before you land your first staff job.) But all of this is predicated on you being able to live in Los Angeles — it really is impossible to start a TV career from anywhere else. But if you live or can move to LA, then don’t give up!! Keep writing, and keep meeting people, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!!

            1. Van Wilder (OP)*

              This is so inspiring and I’m so happy for you! And I really appreciate your advice and kind words. I know how busy you are and I feel honored that you would take the time to write this.

              I’m not currently at a place where it feels worth it to me to change my family’s life to take a shot at my dreams. My spouse and I both make good money but I am the primary breadwinner. We have a lot of student loan debt (but the calculation could be different once some of that is paid off.) I’m not going to say it would be impossible for me to take a salary cut but it would be tough. In addition, we live within an hour drive from all our family and my kids get to see their grandparents a lot. We love our town and are walking distance to the beach, shops, and restaurants. I know my spouse loves our house and would be a very hard sell to move to LA (I also tried to convince him when I was 29.)

              I’m not sure if it sounds like I’m making excuses for not having the courage to follow my dreams, but I really feel that I’ve weighed the pros and cons and made a decision to give it up (at least for now.) My current career is challenging with room for growth. I feel very lucky to work for such a solid company, especially in our current environment. My current career aspirations include making partner (long shot but not as long as becoming a TV writer); otherwise building my reputation as a role model, leader, and working mom; improving efficiencies to serve our clients better; generally feeling like I’m contributing to the economy; and continuing to grow on a personal and professional level.

              That said, I still have a fantasy that I will write a script from home, have it picked up by the Blacklist (for others reading this – it’s a list where Hollywood readers and assistants rank their favorite unproduced scripts and it gets you recognition), and then I’ll get an agent, and then I’ll get staffed on a show. This is incredibly unlikely, *especially* if you consider that I haven’t completed writing of anything in about 4 years, but… I guess I just like to hold on to the idea.

    2. PromotionalKittenBasket*

      Unfortunately playwriting is also a super saturated field even for small companies! The only way to guarantee your work will be produced is to produce it yourself. The creative fields are tough even if you aren’t looking to get paid.
      :(

    3. Alice's Rabbit*

      One of my favorite authors was an accountant who decided to actually write the novel he’d been thinking about for years… in his 40s. He’s now a NYT best-selling author.
      I don’t think 29 is anywhere near too late to break into writing, or 39, or even older. If anything, it gives OP the huge advantage of having more life experience to bring to her scripts. Too many shows end up with crappy writing because young, inexperienced writers only have cliches to draw on, instead of real world perspectives. It’s an echo chamber.

  3. Morticia*

    I was a software developer for over 20 years. I “retired” from that in January, to pursue my dream of becoming a travel agent. Talk about legendary timing… So, I’ve been working on accreditations, and hoping I will have customers when the world reopens.

    1. Lynn*

      That’s awesome!

      I think there will be a lot of people who will want to travel again when they can after being cooped up and would appreciate a professionals help in doing so safely!

    2. Katniss Evergreen*

      If you have the connections to gain insight into safety measures and protections for travelers in various countries/destinations, on specific travel routes, or at individual accommodation sites/entertainment venues/etc., that would tempt lots of people to use a travel agent when the world starts to open up. If I knew someone could help me plan a safe trip, I’d refer everyone I know to use their services.

      1. Lizzo*

        Yep, ^^this.^^ If you can cultivate knowledge and trusted relationships with vendors who you know will take care of your clients while they’re traveling, your services will be very valuable.

      2. Ama*

        Yup. I got married late in 2019 and we hadn’t gotten around to planning our honeymoon when everything shut down. I was already leaning towards using a travel agent to plan our trip but now I really would like some professional advice when it becomes safe to travel for pleasure again.

      3. Morticia*

        Yes, we are being kept up to date on the industry’s plans for keeping customers safe. Every day there are new articles and emails letting us know, for example, Jamaica’s plans, measures, and timelines for re-opening, and how Air Canada is going to provide safe flights for its passengers and crew.

    3. AccidentalGardener*

      I’m thinking about switching to backend programming/developer work. Any tips??

    4. Nicotene*

      It kind of makes me sad that so many folks on this thread switched from whatever they were doing into IT to became successful – because it seems like maybe that is the only field where people are finding career jobs and making good money, and I *know* that would not be a good field for me and my skills!! Whhyy can’t our society value our social workers and teachers and other helping professions more??

      1. AIEA967*

        TBH that’s why I’m considering switching to something in IT. I know I won’t like it, but I could be good at it and the demand is always there. I’m too squeamish to consider anything in the medical field, and that seems to be the only other profession that may weather this shitstorm.

        You’re correct: it’s sad and shitty that so many careers are deemed “less than” because they don’t make corporations a ton of money. We’re forced to choose something that will make us miserable just to survive.

  4. Steveo*

    Similar to CBH above I’ve found that hobbies and volunteerism is a great alternative, especially since every new “career” I’ve considered pays 5x less than what I make now. Some examples: volunteering for the forest service, rather than trying to be a ranger.

    1. DataGirl*

      this is my problem. I’m in tech and I’d love to get out, but nothing I would enjoy doing pays well and I have a family to support.

      1. TechWorker*

        Yeah – I don’t hate my job or field at all – but when it’s stressful I do fantasise a bit about doing ‘something else’ only to realise that anything that pays even remotely as well is likely more stressful haha…

        1. DataGirl*

          Yep. I’ve researched so many possible jobs- it seems like the only field that I would have a chance as staying closer to my salary (still under, by a lot, but not as bad as say what a teacher or librarian makes) is healthcare- but that would be a completely new degree for me and I don’t want to amass even more student loans. Especially when I have teenagers who are going to/will be going to college to pay for.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Different industry, same problem. I’d love to do something different, but those golden handcuffs are welded shut.

    2. AnonForThis#542*

      Definitely. I’m a Fed, GS-15 level. There’s not nearly enough spare time to dedicate to building a fiction writing career into a comparable financial level. I write now, but realistically it’ll be a retirement career at best. Retirement remains quite distant…

      1. Goliath Corp.*

        For what it’s worth, almost no one can live off of a fiction-writing career alone. It’s something that you really have to love enough to do on the side. Sure, some people get lucky and they get that million dollar advance on their first book, but the vast majority of writers need to keep a FT job unless they’re independently wealthy. Some writers will eventually get to the point that they can give up the day job, but it’s rarely a moment that comes quickly.

    3. Venus*

      This is a different way to look at the problem than yours, but gets at the same underlying idea:
      Is it better to work for a non-profit and make a very low salary, or if you are good at a skill that pays well then is it better to get a high-paying job and donate a lot of money to the non-profit?
      There is no right answer, yet when I heard this years ago it helped me to realize that there are many ways to help others and pursue our dreams.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        High pay and donate, working at a nonprofit damages your sanity and professional skills, and makes you less marketable for future jobs.

        1. ampersand*

          Why do you think it makes you less marketable for future jobs? I’m genuinely curious!

          1. DataGirl*

            I’m not sure if less marketable is how I’d put it personally- but it does mess with your salary advancement to be paid significantly under market for your skill set.

        2. BPT*

          That’s a huge generalization. Nonprofits come in many forms. Associations are nonprofits, and you can easily make six figures in many of those at Director level and up. Chambers of Commerce, foundations, there are so many options in the nonprofit space. It can depend on leadership and the actual organization, but that’s true with plenty of for-profit organizations as well.

          1. DataGirl*

            How many people are at the Director level and up though? I worked for a non-profit in tech (Data/Web) for 8 years and was significantly under-paid, so much so that when I switched to a for-profit my salary increased by nearly 50%.

        3. Taylor*

          Like with all industries, this is extremely dependent on the organization you’re working for. I have worked for two non-profits who pay very competitively, even in the outrageously expensive Bay Area. There are plenty of non-profit roles in Ops, communications, strategy, and data that will *not* damage your sanity and professional skills.

    4. Louisa*

      The truth is there are thousands of articles about changing careers or making your hobby a career and most of them ignore this simple fact. Your skills may may indeed be transferrable or similar but most employers don’t need to look for that and won’t. They have 200 resumes on their desk and those that have direct experience will be at top of the pile every time. I spent ten years attempting a career change–I had three adult internships, went back to school, volunteered, work successfully in the industry as a part-timer/volunteer/contracter/freelancer but even then I could not get hired. I was a finalist for many jobs, but most times it went to the person who had full time experience, coming up in a more traditional way. (If all of this is depressing, the good news is (with much help from AAM) I finally got a job I love in a related, moved to a new city, and started a new happy life.) But the idea that we can all make career changes, sorry, I still think it is a long shot.

  5. Gary Lowe*

    I was a software developer for 15 years but was starting to burn out. I was discussing the burnout with a neighbor who was a lawyer. She told me if I went to law school, the combination of law and my extensive tech experience would be valuable as an intellectual property attorney.

    So, I had some informational interviews with some intellectual property attorneys and they all seemed to love the work unlike many other attorneys I knew. So, at the tender age of 39 I went to law school and now I have been an IP attorney at the one of the places where I used to be a software developer for the last 8 years. It’s been a great transition.

    The key points for me were 1) being able to combine two sets of complementary skills and 2) informational interviews confirming that people in that line of work seemed generally happy.

    1. Just J.*

      I’ve considered this. For the past almost 30 years I have been an engineer in the world of Architecture / Engineering / Construction. I’ve looked into multiple times over the years, but it was the cost of law school that was my barrier to making the jump.

      1. Just J.*

        Oops, posted too fast. I’ve looked into being an attorney specializing in construction and contract law.

        1. Ranon*

          As an architect our construction lawyers are definitely some of the happier, more relaxed and well compensated folks I work with!

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        Yeah, the cost is the problem for a lot of people. You’d either have to take out loans and gamble that you’ll be able to secure a position at a firm focused on the work you want to get into or get an entry-level type position at a law firm that will pay for their employees to go to law school – not sure how many firms would do the latter though. And a lot of companies that offer tuition reimbursement that I’ve worked for or applied to expressly state they will not reimburse for law school.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Very few firms pay for law school classes. Law school is incredibly expensive, and there are already tons of eligible candidates in the market – no need to finance your own. The exception is actually for IP law – because of the dearth of lawyers with the technical/science background (most are English/poli sci majors), some IP firms will hire people into technical specialist positions and help them with law school.

          1. Ex-lawyer*

            The reason companies will pay for business school but not law school is that lawyers are cost centers. Business school grads are revenue centers. There is a return on investment for financing business school degrees.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              I’m talking about law firms. Attorneys are the revenue-generators at firms, but few pay law school tuition. No need for it.

      3. Legally a Vacuum*

        You may want to sit for the patent exam to become a patent agent- some firms will put you through law school.

      4. Gary Lowe*

        I agree that the cost is an issue. I was fortunate because having had another career for a while, I had saved up money and my wife could provide us with an income and health insurance during law school and we have no kids.

        Being very focused on a specific law practice and understanding that there would be a decent number of well paying jobs in that area made the cost seem like less of an issue.

      5. Jaylee*

        I would suggest at least taking the LSAT and see how you do. With work experience and a good score (165 or 170+) you might be able to get a full ride somewhere, especially if you target your regional law school (i.e., something not necessarily ranked in the top 14 schools but a solid 1st or 2nd tier school with a good reputation in your city).

        1. Peacemaker*

          This. My son-in-law is in a slightly different position, but similar. He finished an undergraduate degree in engineering, got a 160 on the LSAT, and had full ride offers from several outstanding law programs. He just finished at George Washing U., and has taken a job as a patent attorney in Arizona. They have some debt (living expenses for three years), but they’ll be able to pay it off quickly. You could do the same.

    2. Hide*

      This is really interesting, and I appreciate you posting it. I’m hoping to combine my education (teapot theory) and my experience (practical hot liquids) to enter a related field. I’m worried that I’ll have to go back to school, again. I have a LOT of education. How was law school in your 40s? Did you go part or full time?

      1. Gary Lowe*

        OP here. Law school in my forties was great. I went full time and I loved hanging out with younger people. Plus, unlike my undergraduate years, I had developed more solid work habits from 15 years of another career so it didn’t seem as intimidating as it would have had I went straight from an undergraduate degree.

        When I mentor students about law school, I always recommend that they combine a J.D. with some other practical experience. Most new law graduates aren’t that prepared to contribute much from a strictly legal standpoint but if they have other knowledge they can be very useful from the get go, especially because they understand how things play out in real world.

    3. irene adler*

      This is inspirational for me.
      My two hurdles:
      How does one earn a living while attending law school?

      How does one pay for law school?

      Any ideas on this? Thank you!

      1. Lynn*

        You will almost certainly have to take out loans. That is not the end of the world if you can do so smartly.

        With law school especially, lots of people go after working professional for a few years; their admissions office should have info on this (and if you are interested in a school that does not provide any info — maybe that is a red flag!)

        1. Amy Sly*

          Just keep in mind that at least one court has ruled that it’s okay for schools to lie about their placement and salary statistics if that information can be verified elsewhere, because prospective law students are supposed to be savvy enough to not trust marketing materials.

          MacDonald v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School, 1:11-cv-00831, 2012 WL 2994107, at *6, *9

          And that’s not counting things that aren’t actually lies, like counting the folks working at retail or other jobs that need no higher education, much less legal education, in the number of graduates employed 9 months after graduation.

        2. Ex-lawyer*

          Do not go to law school unless it’s a top-quartile school (ideally a top 15 school, or one that is top in your region, like Santa Clara University in the Bay Area). In the latter case, don’t plan on your degree being portable outside your region until you have amassed several years of experience as an attorney.

      2. Legally a Vacuum*

        If you have a solid technical background and a demonstrated interest in IP, some law firms will put you through law school. You need to establish yourself professionally first to get something like that though.

        Otherwise loans.

      3. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

        So if you’ve already got a strong technical background and are looking to sit for the patent bar, you really just need to get a law degree. Your state university law school can do that and scholarship money is widely available at state universities. (Caveat: this advice is based on my experience in law school during the LAST recession.)

        1. Amy Sly*

          Patent law is divided into two fields: patent prosecution and patent litigation.

          Patent prosecution is the fight to get a patent. You have to pass the patent bar to become a “patent agent,” and to sit the patent bar you must have a bachelor’s in a hard science or engineering, or the functional equivalent. You do not need any legal training to do this. Law firms with an emphasis on IP or industries with lots of patent development need these folks.

          Patent litigation is the fight over whether or not someone is infringing a patent. You don’t have to know anything about science or engineering to do this, but you do have to be a lawyer. Now, many of the folks who do this work are patent lawyers — both patent agents and lawyers, having passed both bars.

          As someone who tried to break into patent law only to be broken herself, my observation is that the employers in that field are looking for folks who worked in industry for years and then went to law school, not people who went straight from science degrees to law school without any practical experience.

      4. alwaysanon*

        I’m an engineer and have a colleague that did the same thing. I don’t know if his law school had an online and/or evening program but he continued to work (I assume full-time) while going to law school. He was allowed to take a leave of absence each summer to do his law firm internship. I don’t know if his law job has been impacted due to COVID but pre-COVID, he was set to graduate this semester and was going to leave our company to move for a new law firm job.

        1. Gary Lowe*

          Some programs offer a degree at night so you can continue to work. However, it takes four years to finish rather than three because the course load is smaller each semester.

          The real issue is on campus recruiting. In most law schools, law firms recruit on campus in the fall of the second year. That’s because everyone takes the exact same classes in year one and the law firms can interview the more highly ranked students knowing that they all took the same classes. Night school runs on a different calendar and so you aren’t a part of the on campus interviews or if you are, you can be at a disadvantage compared with full time students.

          Night school makes sense for those who will not rely on the on campus interviewing process or as a less financially risky tradeoff as you can earn money while attending law school.

          1. Ex-lawyer*

            Campus interviewing is a huge part of the value of law school. The only night schools that really have any power are in DC; that’s probably because of all the Hill staffers and junior lobbyists, but it’s a unique situation. Do not go to night law school outside of DC and expect to land a good legal job.

      5. eveninglawstudent*

        Cost can definitely be a barrier, but it doesn’t have to be. If you do well on the LSAT and apply smartly, law schools often give significant merit scholarships. Also, some schools have part-time programs that allow you to continue working. This is what I’m doing. I have a full-time day job, and I’m a part-time law student. Before COVID, my weekdays would look like this: work 9-5ish; three nights a week, I would commute from work to class, which was generally 6-9:30 or so. It’s a long day, but I enjoy it. You do have to be disciplined about how you spend your time when not working/commuting/in class, and it’s definitely a lot to handle. But if it’s something you want to pursue, it’s worth looking into. I will caution that not all part-time law programs are created equal; some are very low ranked and have poor employment outcomes, so definitely do your research.

        I’m 32, and I’m just finishing up my first year in this program. Before deciding to apply to law school, I considered a number of different graduate degrees, but nothing really clicked, and I wasn’t willing to spend significant sums of money/take out loans for something I wasn’t sure about. But once I settled on law, everything fell into place very quickly. (My day job is in a law-related field, so that’s partially what pushed me in this direction.) On the financial side, because of a combination of scholarships and continuing to work full-time, I’m able to do this with next to no student loans. Tuition reimbursement from an employer can be an option, too–in my case, it’s available, but I chose not to take advantage of it because of the strings attached. I say all this because there’s this perception that law school is always extremely, prohibitively expensive, and that can be true, but not necessarily!

      6. NotAnotherManager!*

        Most people take out loans to do law school, six figures worth, unless you have a science/tech background and want to do IP law, trust fund, LSAT scores/academic credentials that invite scholarship offers, or don’t need to go to a top-tier program to practice the kind of law you want.

        It is also worth looking very closely at career statistics and attorney salaries. Only a very small percentage make the starts-at-$200K BigLaw associate money (and the lifestyle is commensurate with the pay). I have experienced non-attorney staff that make more than the national-average lawyer salary, and BigLaw is increasingly selective. (Legal is a very, very academically-snobby industry in the higher-paying tiers. I have met more than one person who went to a tier-two/three school and didn’t understand why they weren’t qualifying for summer associateships at big firms.) I strongly recommend a hard look at career path realities for anyone contemplating the expense of law school. You don’t want to be out $100K and trying to pay that back on hourly document review projects.

        1. Amy Sly*

          Henceforth and forever amen and amen.

          Only go to law school if:
          1) You won’t have any debt, or
          2) You have connections that will quickly get you into a job, or
          3) You can afford to volunteer your time in internships and the like to get connections, or
          4) You can get into Harvard or Yale.

          To quote the Demotivational poster, it may be that the sole purpose of my life is to serve as a warning to others. If so, please observe the warning so that my suffering accomplished something!

    4. Guacamole Bob*

      My aunt did something similar, after studying chemistry in undergrad and I think grad school.

      1. Sorta Retired*

        Especially the exclusions. There are lots of conditions that student health insurance won’t cover and many of them are surprising.

        1. Noodle kaboodle*

          I used to work for a benefits administrator that administered a lot of student health plans. That’s actually your first sign, if it’s called a plan vs insurance, that is a strong indicator that it doesn’t even follow the minimum state and ACA standards to be considered health insurance. See if you’re qualified for Medicaid or an exchange plan with a discount before buying that crap.

    5. Ama*

      I’ll add in that IP law expertise is in increasing demand at universities that do research (particularly biomedical and tech research), and nonprofits who fund that type of research. My nonprofit employer has been lucky enough to find a great firm that’s taken us on as a pro bono client and having access to their IP law team when we are negotiating grant contracts has been invaluable.

    6. T. Boone Pickens*

      My brother did something very similar to OP except he got his MBA versus went to law school and transitioned from a software developer into a blended sales development/sales engineer role for a small startup. To say he’s doing well would be a gross understatement.

    7. Llellayena*

      This is sort of how I ended up in architecture. I had two seemingly non-overlapping interests in college (math and art) and couldn’t find a viable career in either one individually. But when I combined them in architecture and went back to grad school (graduated at 30 y.o.) my career took off

    8. iliketoknit*

      Since this looks like the “transition to law” part of the comments, I’ll chime in – I went from humanities academia to law, less voluntarily than Gary Lowe (my academic contract was terminated, and for personal reasons it became too hard to take any job anywhere in the country just to be employed). For myself, I chose law for personal strengths (research, writing, analysis), and also because there was a fairly clearcut, straightforward path: get a law degree, become a lawyer. I knew too many people who left academia and really struggled to find work or define a new career path, and I don’t have an entrepreneurial spirit.

      I currently work for the federal government and there are things I don’t like about my job, but I’m not sure how much they’re about my job, or the result of my own anxieties/neuroses. I would love to be doing something more creative/artistic, but follow the path of hobbies/volunteerism because the security and stability of my job is really important to me.

      I will say that I have better work-life boundaries in law than I ever did in academia, which is wonderful, and that academia makes the federal government look like the most functional employer ever (tbf, I think it’s mostly very good).

      I did take on debt to get my law degree, but am on an income-based repayment plan and hoping to get the bulk forgiven under public service loan forgiveness.

      Law was pretty transition-friendly – there were lots of career changers in my class and while I wasn’t special for having a PhD/academic career, I don’t think it ever hurt me.

      But it is a REALLY expensive degree so it’s important to consider the employment prospects of a given school really carefully in light of what you think you want to do in law. There are a lot of jobs out there where demonstrated commitment and experience + networking trumps grades/pedigree, but there are also a lot of jobs (particularly the prestigious and high-paying ones) where grades/pedigree are still incredibly important. You don’t want to pay $250k for a degree to find it’s not going to open the doors you thought it would.

    9. RecoveringSWO*

      I had the same experience except I used my management experience to enter labor & employment law. The GI Bill took care of law school, which made my experience less stressful than my classmates. I made friends with an RN who did the same thing with health law. GL is absolutely correct that the professional experience made all the difference in my interviews.
      Also, if any of you are avid readers and interested in law school, you’d probably enjoy employment and/or labor law. If you can’t afford law school, you also might enjoy working as a field examiner for a government agency related to employment law.

    10. Late already!*

      Having read through all the responses regarding switching careers to become a lawyer, can anyone comment with their experience on how law firms operate? Yes, you can get a job if you’ve gone to a top-tier law firm, but the career path inside a law firm seems to focus eventually on your ability to get and cultivate clients. It seems law firms are not interested in increasing an attorney’s pay forever if the attorney isn’t also bringing in business, particularly business that can keep the new(er) attorneys busy — it’s a financial reality. So, if you are not a good salesperson in this context, you might have a very tough time in the private sector. Government attorneys are generally not compensated well, but they don’t have to get clients, at least. This, to me, is something that is rarely considered by those wanting to attend law school; it often isn’t just about the law.

      1. Late already!*

        Meant to add: But for those who have lots of contacts in the business world already, in addition to some specific technical knowledge, law school might be a good path.

  6. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Mentioned this a few times, but I changed careers from Virologist to working in IT.

    My degree is in virology, all my training was in virology. But I suffered a serious accident outside of work and physically and mentally I just couldn’t do it anymore. It wasn’t as interesting as I’d thought either.

    So, I thought about what my real passion was and it’s always been computers, even from my first Spectrum. I started out on the absolute bottom rung of IT in a large firm – I trained staff how to use their laptops and blackberries. It was dull work but it got me into IT, and I managed 3 promotions (eventually doing management) in the 10 years I spent in that firm.

    I’ve got a few regrets for leaving my original field (definitely at the moment) but nothing major.

    1. MissM*

      I’d think that a lot of the core competencies would be similar between the two fields, no?

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Certainly being able to think beyond ‘logically this should do X but it’s doing Y instead’ is a big help. Neither viruses nor software behave themselves according to rules.

        I still don’t have any qualifications in computer science or IT in general. Although I’ve wondered if I should use this isolation time (and being unemployed) to get a GCSE or A level in the field..

        1. TechWorker*

          I am ~12 years out of school so maybe it’s improved but when I took it IT GCSE was absolutely not worth the paper it was written on, it was basically ‘how to use Microsoft office’ which I imagine is *not* what your 10 year IT career has focussed on :p I think computer science is a bit better but would be tempted to look more at qualifications aimed at professionals than GCSE/A Level.

          1. Ina Lummick*

            Its definetly improved looking at GCSE syllabuses – I would have definetly chosen IT had this been what it was like when I was in school. I went to uni in 2014 and the IT qualifications at GCSE were definetly still of the how to use Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher) variety.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Haha, no it’s been everything from SQL programming to supporting over 500 different applications. I think I’ll give the academic qualifications a miss then :)

        2. Ina Lummick*

          I remember looking at the syllabus of AQA GCSE IT and as a GCSE student in the early 2010’s it seemed like I was designed by really old people who didn’t really understand computers.

          Although I have just looked at the AQA GCSE spec for Computer Science and it seems much more with the times. There’s a programming project, algorithms, cyber security, effects (in different ways) of technology on wider society, computer networks and a few other things.

          Depending on how long you’ve been doing IT, you might find the A Level (or other type of level 3 qualification – like a BTEC) more appropriate to your skill level.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Nearly 2 decades now. Gods I feel old! I was single when I started work in IT, now I’ve been married 15 years.

  7. DrakeMallard*

    I can’t wait to read these replies! I’m currently 29, working in environmental compliance, and considering a change to web development and programming.

    1. E*

      Like Gary Lowe says above, I think a great way to change careers is to make a change where your previous skills and knowledge are an asset. So in your case, a great step might be moving to a startup with a product around environmental compliance. You might have to start in a role more focused on subject matter than technical work, but in a startup environment you will be exposed to all parts of the business and given a chance to work on some of the programming. In that way you can leverage your subject-matter expertise into gradually picking up programming and eventually make a full switch.
      Many startups are a collection of smart programmers who want to make a change but need domain-specific expertise. You can provide that! And they always have more work than they can do, and would be happy for you to pick up some of that.
      Source: have done this.

      1. E*

        To add: I once knew someone with extensive professional training (let’s say as a medical doctor in an in-demand specialty) who decided she’d rather be a designer. Okay, cool. She could have gone into a medical startup as the resident doctor, where her existing skills are incredibly high demand (not that many doctors want to totally leave medicine), where she could have called the shots, where she could have had extensive input on the product, been taught by talented designers, etc. Instead she went into an unrelated field, started at the bottom, had very little influence, and was unhappy being a totally junior person all over again.
        Also, of course, my advice above is predicated on you working hard to learn about programming on your own and proactively working on some of those projects — your engineer coworkers will be happy to help you, you don’t have to be anywhere near perfect, but you do have to learn the basics yourself and out in effort.

      2. DrakeMallard*

        Thank you so much! I’m still in the early stages, but this is a great idea and makes a lot of sense. I still like environmental work, but I’m very burned out on fieldwork. What you’ve described sounds like a great transition point!

    2. Susie Q*

      One thing I would do is look for freelance web development/programming jobs. Then you can try a job before making a huge career shift.

    3. Apricot*

      I made the jump from education/academia to software engineering last year at 29-30. I had a foundation in web development through self-teaching and shadowing/assisting a developer at work and then I did a coding boot camp to elevate my skills (I don’t think everyone needs to do a boot camp, but I’m very glad I did). I mentioned this in the comments section of another post, but basically the most significant factor in aiding my career change was networking. I’m shy, so I started volunteering for a local “women in tech” organization so I would have friends and a built-in topic of conversation at events we hosted or attended together. The people I met through that group led me to boot camp, my internship, and eventually my first job in my new field. If you have any questions about transitioning into web development/software engineering I’m happy to be a resource (you can email me at codecopycoffee@gmail.com as I may miss replies here) and I will do my best to provide helpful answers!

    4. Cedrus Libani*

      I also switched from hands-on lab work to 100% computational, mostly by volunteering myself for relevant tasks while on the job. Many hardcore lab / fieldwork types aren’t comfortable with that side of things. They certainly don’t want to touch the lab website. And they find data analysis painful, because they don’t have the skills to do it efficiently. Once they figure out that you can do what for them would be hours of tedious copy-pasting in a few lines of code, they will be lining up at your desk with baked goods, hoping to bribe you into…gaining valuable experience.

      1. E*

        Also excellent advice! There is usually some data/programming work that needs to be done, and if you become the person who does it…you’ll learn how to do it! Even if you have no idea what you’re doing, the internet is a great place to look up programming tips.

      2. Brownie*

        One software startup I used to work for built a program that took the computational work that took the lab folks 2 months of dedicated time by one person to do in Excel and built a program that they only had to upload files direct from their instruments to, input the parameters into a web form, and hit the Calculate button to get their full analytical report, complete with statistical graphs with standard deviations, from. They were ecstatic and paid a lot of money for it since it freed them up to do actual lab work which they liked much better than wrestling with Excel.

        That program wasn’t possible without the technical knowledge of one person who’d been on the lab side of things who’d switched to software development. That’s where background knowledge from a previous career can shine, especially in computational, data analysis, process improvement, and many other places where insider or hands-on knowledge is key to getting a good end result.

        1. Cedrus Libani*

          Subject matter expertise + computer skills is definitely a thing. I don’t have the raw skills of a person who’s been doing nothing but software development, or nothing but machine learning, or even nothing but my subject matter. But if that’s what is needed, I can find such a person and explain the problem in their language. I’m the person who realizes that a subject matter problem has a technological solution, and then helps make it happen.

    5. Newer to Tech*

      Like another commentor, I also transitioned into tech around age 30. I am also shy and also networked by volunteering with my local “women in tech” events.
      Have you tried out learning to code on your own yet? Are you inspired by it? If so, then I would say, go for it and make the career change! (If you haven’t tried it on your own yet, there’s many free resources online, just Google it)
      It wasn’t always easy for me, but I always felt supported by those around me. Once you get over the initial learning curve and start to understand basic programming concepts it gets easier to learn other languages and frameworks.
      I didn’t do a bootcamp because I know myself and I know I can’t learn that quickly under so much time pressure! Plus, they were very expensive (and would require a temporary move to a more expensive city) and I wasn’t sure what value I’d get out of it.
      I already had a degree, so my compromise was a 2-year diploma. Got my first job within a month out of a grad, and have been happy ever since.

      1. DrakeMallard*

        I’ve been using some free online resources to learn the coding basics and so far I really enjoy it! Once we figure out how to have gatherings again, I’d really like to attend some women in tech or other networking events as well.
        I’ve got a BS and and MPH already, but was considering taking some coursework from my local community college (plus my current employer may help with tuition).
        My cousin also pointed out that with my MPH, it wouldn’t be super hard for me to jump into data analysis for a healthcare or insurance company if I taught myself how to use Tableau and a couple other softwares.

  8. Old13oy*

    I started as an organizer and have segued over 6-7 years into technology, to the point where my next job is either going to be a technology consultant for a big 4 firm, launching a technology start-up, or becoming a full-time developer.

    It’s taken time to execute because I’ve now done small pieces of every type of task associated with technology – I’ve administered databases from the front end, then I started administering them from the back end, then I started defining requirements for projects for the company building the back end, then I started helping a business talk to vendors about their requirements for what they needed built, and now I’m in a job where I’m doing all of it simultaneously. Each role has been one step further into additional skill sets, building on the step before it.

    This was only possible because I’ve done it consistently over a number of frequent job moves – the longest I’ve stayed with an organization was 2 years to the day. I’ve also pursued credentials for myself to support the shift, including my Master’s and professional certifications. My next job is going to be a big jump in terms of responsibilities (and hopefully salary), but I’ve worked for a number of years to make it happen.

  9. Alias*

    This is an excellent question. I am currently a 29-year-old attorney with a hard science background. I’ve been flirting with the idea of trying for medical school. At the time I was in college, I was a 19, 20, 21-year-old who didn’t have the stamina for it. Now I routinely work 12-hour days and never less than 50 hours per week. I’m not saying medical school is easy but I certainly know myself more, and know how to study and work for long periods of time.

    1. Now In the Job*

      I’m curious about attorneys who make the change into something different. I’m an in-house contracts attorney (though I’m becoming someone of a split contracts-and-employment attorney, no qualms about that at the moment) but I’ve always known I wasn’t going to be an attorney for the next thirty-five years. The dream is to pay off law school loans, get a nice retirement account, some passive investment income, then jump off the industry to work in personal finance and teaching people basic budgeting/personal finance skills.

      1. CatCat*

        This is literally me (with a little different in-house practice). Also passionate about personal finance and informally help friends with it (who want help). Idk that I really need a career switch, but maybe reduce schedule to 80% and find volunteer in this arena.

        1. MayLou*

          I don’t know about other countries but in the UK that background and set of interests would lend itself well to being a debt and benefits adviser. 75% of my team have a law degree – we’re a specialised team and the only ones in the country offering our service. Earlier today we were discussing the fact that it’s impossible to recruit people with the precise skillset that’s needed, so either people with the right background and soft skills (me and one colleague) are taken on and trained up in debt advice, or people with the right experience in debt advice are taken on and trained up in our specialism (a colleague currently doing a part time law degree).

          1. Now In the Job*

            I truly have no idea what that work even is. Can you point me in an direction where I can read up on it? (UK resources welcome!)

      2. Jaylee*

        I’ve thought often about padding retirement account and having a nice enough nest egg to then switch over to a nonprofit, legal aid type place (finally paid of loans last year!). I unfortunately keep increasing the amount of nest egg I will need to feel “safe” to make the jump, especially now with the uncertainty of the economy.

        1. Ex-lawyer*

          Most people have unrealistic ideas about how much non-profit legal aid attorneys make. Even if you have paid off your loans, you are not going to make anywhere near the kind of money that will allow you to live decently, and certainly not the kind of money that will justify the opportunity cost of a law degree.

          1. Alias*

            Cost of living is a huge factor, and “living decently” also varies from person to person and everyone has different goals. I grew up around people who scrimped and saved and were content doing so, and it didn’t keep them up at night that they couldn’t (or wouldn’t, depending on how much they had saved ) keep up with anyone else’s preferred standard of living. Even if the lost opportunity cost may make you sick, someone else might be totally fulfilled. But you do have to look realistically at what you want and if your probable salary is going to get you there.

        2. Now In the Job*

          CONGRATULATIONS! That’s a huge accomplishment! I know I’m stuck on the grind for the 20 year income dependent payment process and then the taxable income debt forgiveness, but…it doesn’t bother me too terribly much.

      3. Cautiously Optimistic*

        I made the switch about seven years ago from private practice attorney in insurance defense to non-profit management where I am now an Executive Director. I knew I wanted to leave billable hours and litigation behind but also didn’t want to start from the bottom. So I made connections at a legal aid agency and had the opportunity to lead a new program for them. That then translated into moving into fundraising and management and now, the E.D.

        Overall, I have no regrets. It is difficult to convince people that I have no legal background in employment law / HR (I frequently have to say “I don’t know, why don’t we call the lawyers?”) and it took a lot of planning but it certainly can be done!

    2. PennyLane*

      A friend of mine has your background and did just this. Left her job as a patent attorney and went to med school at the age of 32. She just graduated. She is so glad she finally followed her dream.

      1. Alias*

        Part of my issue is that I never really had a clear “dream” or a particular area where I excelled more than any other. At the time I knew that I could survive law school, that I was detail-oriented, and that reading and writing came naturally to me. I took the LSAT once and got a good score, went to a good school, and got a job. At this point I’m not sure that I have the passion to survive medical school, but then again people also said that you need passion to survive law school and that was relatively easy for me.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          What about transitioning into medical law? Malpractice or something like that?

          1. Alias*

            Switching tracks within the law can be very difficult. I’m highly unusual in that I started my career in-house. So I’m essentially “locked in” to certain times of work and certainly no BigLaw firm will hire me. I’m also not personally interested in going to a smaller firm or doing medical malpratice work. I think if I were to take the plunge, it would be into a different career altogether.

            1. Now In the Job*

              I’m very interested in talking to you offline sometime. I also started my career in-house; I’m at my 3rd corporation in 3 wildly different industries in 5 years though, so it is absolutely possible to move into different kinds of work. Going into BigLaw probably wouldn’t happen, but the question there is whether you even want to.

              Anyway, if you want to talk with someone in approximately your shoes, let’s see if we can find a way to connect :)

    3. My Brain Is Exploding*

      Reverse: had a friend whose doctor dad went to law school. He then did a lot of medical malpractice litigation.

      1. Kesnit*

        One of my law professors was an ICU nurse for many years before going to law school. She did medical malpractice for about 20 years before becoming a professor.

      2. Lucy McGillicuddy*

        I had a surgeon in my law school class … I was always fascinated by that guy’s drive.

        1. Alias*

          That sounds crazy to me! To survive 4 years of medical school and then (I think) 6 or 7 years of residency to be a board-certified surgeon and THEN go to law school and THEN take the bar and MPRE…did he say why he was doing it?

          1. Lucy McGillicuddy*

            It’s absolutely crazy! I never heard what his plan was but I’m going to assume malpractice or maybe lobbying? Whatever he’s doing I’m sure he’s doing it very well.

    4. MissDisplaced*

      I can see why you’d be interested Alias. But you’d really have to consider the time vrs. reward. Perhaps I’m wrong but I thought medical school + residency equaled about 10 years? I could be over-extending that though, as it may include a surgical or specialty residency on top, rather than a GP. Could/Would you also consider nursing?

      I guess you’d have to consider what your ultimate end-goal is. Is it to be a medical doctor with a law degree so you can get into some type of research or advisory-advocacy role? Or is it to be practicing medical specialist or surgeon?

      But you know, if you think you can do it, you probably can.

      1. Alias*

        Medical school is 4 years and residency is anywhere from 3-7 years. The upper end is when you get into things like plastic surgery and neurosurgery.

        The time commitment is definitely something I’ve been thinking about. I would still have to study for and take the MCAT (and I think a class or two that I didn’t take since I wasn’t on a pre-med track) so that adds another year on top of everything.

        I think that if someone held a gun to my head I “could” do it. I “could” survive. I think the question is if I want to at this point, and I’m not so sure that I want to leave gainful employment (which I’m grateful to have) to go back to school and go back to all that uncertainty.

    5. More coffee please*

      Thank you for sharing, Alias! I’m in a somewhat similar position. I’m 26 and have been working in business functions (ops, corp dev, etc.) at a medical device company since graduation. I studied biomedical engineering and had dreamed of being a doctor, but I was so burned out from school at 22 that I couldn’t stomach signing up for 4 more years at that point.

      Now, a few years later, I’ve become much better at problem solving, prioritizing, and managing my stress, so the idea of medical school has crept back in. I’m trying to start volunteering now to understand if I should go that route, although COVID has complicated the process.

    6. Call me St. Vincent*

      My husband is a physician who is finishing up 12 years of training including medical school, residency, chief residency, fellowship and advanced fellowship. The training is grueling. In my view, you really have to have a calling to medicine. Those we have known over the years who went to medical school without that feeling and drive ended up leaving to do something else. (One of them is now a CEO of a marketing company and doing awesome!). So I say, if it’s your calling–you should go for it!

      If it isn’t a calling, I would say really think about it because it is not an easy life. I am a lawyer and working a 50 hour week isn’t really equivalent and I am a former big firm lawyer. I am also the spouse who was left home with the newborn when my husband was working 15 hour days on consults 7 days a week with 4 days off per month. The ACGME now limits trainees to working 80 hours per week averaged over a 4 week period. So yeah that’s better, but it’s not 50 hours a week. I say all this not to be snarky in any way, but just to give you a realistic picture of what medicine is like as I have observed over these years.

      Plus, you need to figure in a large drop in salary not only while you’re in school (hopefully not racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt–go to a state school!), but once you enter residency. I mean that sincerely about going to a state school. Most of our friends are DROWNING in debt from medical school. Residents and fellows basically make minimum wage when you calculate the hours to salary. I say this as the person in the marriage who has carried the burden financially for a really long time! While you can moonlight, which is lucrative, you still have to keep within the ACGME duty hours and you have to have the wherewithal to work that much more over what you’re already working.

      Also, while you will always have a job in medicine, most hospitals have cut salaries and benefits significantly (friends of ours have seen between 15-20% salary reductions during Covid).

      TLDR: If medicine is your absolute calling, it is well worth it! If not, probably not worth it.

      1. RM, not MD*

        Surely residency and work hours depend on the specialty? I’m a midwife, not a physician, but staff midwives in my hospital participate in postgraduate medical training (i.e. training residents) so I’ve interacted with quite a few OB and family medicine residents, and the programs seem very different. Being a physician – being a primary care provider of any kind – is certainly not easy anywhere, but I do think there’s significant variation between specialties and between practice settings.

        1. Call me St. Vincent*

          I have known hundreds of residents and fellows throughout my husband’s training of all different specialties and, no, there is not variation. If you could make an argument for anyone, maybe you could make one for Derm residents, maybe, but they have brutal call too. Maybe it’s different at a community hospital (not sure what your hospital is like at all)? At academic medical centers, I have not witnessed any variation like you are suggesting. I have friends who are derm, surgery, medicine, obgyn, peds, med-peds, ortho, primary care, pathology, radiology and onwards and then I have known all sorts of fellows (cardiology, GI, rheumatology, nephrology, oncology surgery, radiation oncology, heme onc). Everyone I know has struggled with these issues.

    7. Job Carousel*

      As a 33-year-old resident physician (who entered medical school full-time at 27 after finishing a PhD)…the training hours can be very grueling, and harder to adapt to physiologically in your 30s than in your 20s. I routinely worked 60+ hour weeks as a PhD student in a chemistry group at a top program — from 6:30 AM – 6 PM Monday-Friday, plus another 6-8 hours on the weekend — but at least when I got home for the night, I was truly off and could sleep in peace. As resident physicians, not only do we work 40-80 hours a week on site (varies wildly by service we’re covering), we also take call on-site or home call on evenings, overnights, weekends, and holidays. My specialty mostly does home call, but often this means getting called to go into the hospital or otherwise answering pages without more than an hour or two break for 48-72 hours straight, and being expected to work our regular hours and perform at a high level without any days off before or after call. I pulled a few all nighters as a teenager/early-20-something in college and was able to compensate with caffeine and strategic naps..but now in my 30s going for days without quality (>3 hours at once) sleep really wrecks me. Sure, there are medical specialties where once you complete training, you can have regular office hours and not/rarely get interrupted after hours…but during training all of us, regardless of speciality, lead pretty miserable existences.

      1. Alias*

        I will definitely need to dive into this more and do a lot more research. That description of how little sleep you get is definitely giving me pause. Thank you for outlining it.

        May I ask…what keeps you going? Why did you go into medicine? Do you ever have days where you’re like “I can’t do this?”

        1. Job Carousel*

          I think for many resident doctors, what keeps them going is the six figure debt they’re in, feeling like they have to suffer through residency +/- fellowship making $60-$75K/year in order to finally be qualified to make $150K-$1M+/year after their training so they can pay off their educational debt and eventually enjoy “the good life.” For me, I’m very fortunate not to have that educational debt as I went through an MD/PhD program that covered tuition and paid me a modest $20-25K/year living stipend; I lived modestly in a low cost of living location during my medical and graduate school years and came out debt-free.

          I’ve always wanted to be a scientist, so for me the decision came down to grad school only vs. MD/PhD programs. The job market for PhD scientists who want to stay in (academic) research is tough, so I thought I could diversify myself and fulfill my academic interests in medicine by going the MD/PhD route. After finishing the MD, the path of least resistance for me was to continue medical training to get licensed (after an intern year) and then board-certified in a speciality (3 years for me including the intern year, plus one year of a board-certified fellowship I’m starting in July). I picked the speciality closest to basic science I could find, but it turns out I actually don’t care for clinical medicine and plan to go into biotech/pharma after finishing my fellowship. I’m a creative, idea-oriented person who loves to solve problems — characteristics which science embraces but medicine seems to shun (I am in a speciality that is highly regulated and where even small tweaks to a process to fix gaping holes takes longer than a full-term pregnancy to gestate). I’ve also come to resent the hours, the life disruptions, and being forced to do residency across the country from my family in a place I would rather not have gone (I went through a disastrous match and got contractually obligated to train here).

        2. Jay*

          Varies a great deal by specialty and by residency program. I’m a doc – went straight through from college to med school to residency – and graduated college in ’82, so my training predates the current work-hours restrictions. Primary care specialties can have grueling residencies, although family practice is usually better by the second or third year. Surgical specialties are awful, still. Psych is entirely livable. Many others are somewhere in between. I still take call at nearly 60, now always from home, because I can’t abide the kinds of jobs that don’t have call. I’m an internist specializing in hospice and palliative medicine (made that change after 20 years in primary care). I consider going back and retraining in psych but didn’t think I could stand moving back to the bottom of the hierarchy. Medicine is still very hierarchical. Med students and residents are at the bottom of the ladder and that can be very hard to take if you’ve been treated like an adult previously.

          That said there is nothing like the intense satisfaction of knowing I have made a difference. In my field, that’s not so much about saving lives as it is about making a real connection and relieving suffering. It’s worth everything.

          1. Jay*

            And my husband was in grad school while I was in medical school and residency. He has a PhD in a hard science. He had a much, much, more abusive and exhausting experience than I did. No one in my training ever decided I wasn’t a serious doctor because I was marrying someone outside of medicine. His advisor met me and immediately concluded that he wasn’t a serious scientist, since I wasn’t a scientist.

            1. Job Carousel*

              That’s awful about your husband’s advisor! To be honest, my PhD years were harder than my medical school years for similar reasons…I started reading Ask A Manager during my PhD years because my advisor was extremely talented at science but not at all talented as a people manager or mentor. Working 60+ hours a week wasn’t good enough if my colleagues worked 80+ hours/week. Working 6 days a week wasn’t good enough if my colleagues worked 7. I learned not to ask for help with my science because the few times I did early on, my advisor’s response was always “figure it out yourself”; the folks who outwardly struggled and needed more hands-on mentorship were inevitably sacked after 2, 3, or even 4 years in the lab.

    8. jessesq*

      Don’t do itttttttt.
      I was a lawyer, too. And I was married to someone through med school, residency, etc. It is so much worse doing med school than law school, the two are nowhere near comparable. You have to wait significantly longer before you’re done–years and years, not just med school itself–and when I went through it all by proxy I was sooooo glad that I hadn’t gone that route. I would be a good doctor but I would be a terrible med student.
      I used to teach LSAT prep and I got lots of people who had done something else (even doctors!) and wanted to do law school because it seemed like a thing to do. They never liked it, either.
      You should definitely consider switching careers or at least specialties or jobs. But there are SO many other options.

  10. Lola*

    I went to library school at 33 after working in web content, which used to include more tech parts but had become pretty much copywriting to me. I was amazed how many other students went right out of undergrad. There were a few of us older students and some had kids. I worked full-time in web content while going to school. I also found starting salaries where I lived were low bc so many inexperienced ppl were entering the market with no work history. But I was able to move and get the pay I wanted. I am on my second job now as the first turned into solely web content, which was frustrating but at least it got me into an academic library. Someone I know with kids worked a few part time jobs before landing a full time one. So you have to be flexible and it’s hard without some financial cushion. I did work a part time job at night and on the weekends for 8 months while looking for a full time library gig and continuing my old full time job.

    1. anon kitty*

      In library school as a career changer, I always made a beeline towards other person in the room who seemed to be older than 25 (usually there was just a couple of us!) when team projects were in the air. Now as a librarian, I rely heavily on the transferable skills I developed in my previous occupations. I wonder what the learning curve is like for people who go straight from high school to college to library school then finally hit real life. Hopefully they’ve been working along the way and have some non-academic context from that.

      1. Miss Vicki*

        I went to library school at age 29, and most of the students were second career folk. In fact, it was strange to see somebody just out of undergrad. (I feel like that’s changed a bit now over the last decade+ and now as a hiring manager, we see a lot more people who are in library school sooner after undergrad.) I always loved how diverse the student body was in terms of experience. I work in an area that has a lot of suburban libraries, so the market is dense, but when I was coming out of library school, it was 2009/2010, and people weren’t retiring, places weren’t hiring. So it took persistence, leaning on savings and part time work, and luck. It was definitely a sacrifice. Looking to see what’s happening in the field you’re considering is really important, and getting experience wherever you can is valuable. And your previous work experience is usually pretty meaningful in new career paths. I like what somebody said above: complementary skill sets are great.

        1. DataGirl*

          I went to library school as a returning student (was about 30 when I started) and graduated in 2008. It is still a dream for me to work in a library, but it’s not realistic for me at all. For one thing, my area is over-saturated with librarians (we have 2 ALA accredited Universities) so back then the story was for every job posted, they’d get 300+ applicants. The other problem is the pay is so, so bad, especially for a job that requires a graduate degree. I ended up working for a non-profit and sort of sliding into tech, and while in some ways I wish I could have held out for a library job, the money I would have made would not have supported my family.

          Personally I sort of regret the degree- I owe a lot of money still in student loans and it hasn’t helped me much. I wish I had done more research and realized how hard it would be to get a job. Now I’d love to get a different degree (I’m in my early 40’s) but I really can’t afford to take out more loans and feel too old to start over.

      2. button*

        I went to lib school straight from undergrad, but at least I had worked in the library throughout undergrad and done a decent amount of career research before I committed to getting the degree (and I am still in academic libraries and the same specialty, so it really was relevant experience). It amazed me how many of my classmates didn’t seem to have a clear grip on what librarians actually did all day, considering they were in a degree program expressly to become a librarian!! I agree that people with prior careers and experience (even experience in other aspects of librarianship) are extremely valuable to libraries.

      3. Absurda*

        I also went to library school in my early 30’s for a career change. I work for a large multi-national tech company and was completely miserable at the time I went back to school; though I was able to take advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement program to pay for it. My goal was to become an archivist.

        Well, by the time I finished library school, management in my department changed, I started working from home (which I LOVE) and I bought a house. The (very low) pay scale for librarians in the area, the lack of local openings for archivists specifically and the changes at my tech company job all made changing careers impractical (translation: I couldn’t afford a pay cut and my job wasn’t as miserable as when I started).

        I ended up staying where I was. I’ve been here 15 years altogether and I’m happy enough with my choice. I’ve had some amazing opportunities for travel to our international locations that I probably wouldn’t’ have had otherwise, so it’s a trade off.

    2. Oranges*

      I’m in a very similar position, working full-time time right in digital marketing (with a lot of emphasis on web content in a previous position). I’m thinking about returning to school to become a librarian even though I’m only 2 years out of undergrad. It’s really nice to hear that lots of people find success in libraries even after having a previous career! I’m hoping my web and writing skills will give me a leg up.

    3. Raising an otter villiage*

      I’m only a year out of my undergrad, but I studied public health and am very interested in going to library school. I apologize for going off topic, but I’m nervous about going now, as so many (nearly all?) libraries are closed and they are so often the first things to get their budgets cut, which could need to happen post-pandemic. I’ve thought about emailing local library grad programs to ask about it, but my feeling has been that they will encourage me to enter the program regardless of if it’s in my best interest.

      Do any of you have thoughts on entering the library field right now, or have suggestions on where I can find these perspectives?

      1. button*

        Grad programs will almost certainly tell you to go anyway, as higher ed in general is desperate for students to enroll and professional Masters like library science are usually moneymakers for universities.

        I would say that the outlook for the field as a whole is not great, especially now. But I still see job announcements trickling out here and there–whether those will increase or decrease as the impact of the pandemic on budgets becomes clearer remains to be seen. I think it might be wise to wait and see what happens in the rest of this year.

        Also, it depends on what kind of skills you might have from undergrad (or a job, if you’re working now)–if you have a science background, for instance, it’s somewhat easier to get a foot in the door as an academic librarian because so many librarians come from the humanities. And just as a rule, but especially now, I would say anyone who wants to be a librarian should be prepared to relocate at least for a few years.

        1. Raising an otter villiage*

          Thank you! I don’t mean to get further off track, but can I ask what you mean about relocating? Do you mean to get farther away from the grad program to go to a place with less density in MLS holders?

          Regarding your other points, my passion would be to work as a youth or school librarian, and my background (school and work) is in public health, social work, and education. I know- I’ve picked the some of the most competitive and lowest paying options. I would go to school somewhere with several ALA accredited programs, then go back home to where there are none, but it’s still a pretty desirable area with high competition in most fields.

          Your advice makes a lot of sense. Thanks for your help!

          1. AcademiaNut*

            I suspect that relocating means being willing to move where the jobs are. There are a limited number of jobs in any given physical location, so your chances are better if you’re willing to move for the job, and willing to move wherever the job is. So even your desire to move back to your home region may be too limiting if you really want a library job.

          2. Solitary Daughter*

            One of the things that always astonishes me about libraries is how different one is from the other, even when they’re located a couple of miles apart. I work in suburban Chicago, which is a great market for library workers. I work in a district library, which is different from a municipal library, which sources its funding differently (and, frankly, is a much nicer way to operate). I’ve worked at both kinds of libraries. I’ve worked in communities where they don’t have much, and I’ve worked in communities that have more than they know what to do with. Wherever you think you want to live, you should do a LOT of research before planning on a library degree. Check the job boards, see what they look like, if the salary is something that seems like it’s a good fit, etc. Ask librarians what their work is like (and if you sit down for an actual informational interview, send them a thank. you e-mail, because it’s pretty sad how many people DON’T do that. You’ll immediately stand out to them for having basic manners.). I’m a former youth librarian myself, and I loved the work, but like any job, there are ups and downs. I love the administrative work I do now to try and keep a great work environment for our staff. Having the power to change things that are bad practice is awesome — I’m trying to be the kind of leader I wanted to see when I was younger in my career. Librarians and library workers are generally pretty awesome people, and while the work can sometimes be frustrating, it’s wonderful work to be doing.

            Others have said it in this mini-thread, but I’ll repeat it here: the pandemic has changed things for us, just like it has for everybody. We’ve spent the last two decades becoming a community gathering space and now communities can’t gather for a while. We will never go away, and some day I think things will return to some semblance of normal, but this is making us different in ways we don’t know the full ramifications of yet. So, that said, it would be a strange time to get into the mix. But it won’t always be that way.

  11. rayray*

    I am excited to hear about this! I think I’m still young at 30, graduated college 8 years ago. I never could get a job in writing,editing, etc. I worked at a law firm and as an exec assistant. Neither were the best fit for me.Currently unemployed due to layoff and can’t figure out what to do exactly. While I am still trying to find a way to break into a role like communications coordinator, email marketer, etc. It’s tough without experience. I am also considering applying for a program to be a school counselor, MAYBE teaching, or something different. It’s so hard to network now and find people to help me get in at their companies, so I am excited to hear other people’s stories! Maybe I’ll hear ideas I never thought of.

    1. rayray*

      Just to add, I did mainly proofreading and editing documents at the law firm but it’s not exactly the kind of experience some jobs want. I am trying to twist it that way though!

    2. someguyscallmeshawna*

      My college degree was writing related, but I had a really hard time finding a full-time writing job after graduating. I did freelance and temp work that wasn’t related to my degree for a few years, but I was able to turn my career around by focusing on my writing portfolio. By then all my clips were old and stale, so I found a few freelance writing gigs. Some were paid and some weren’t, but I was able to revamp my portfolio and find a full-time writing job after a few months!

      1. rayray*

        Nice! I’ve thought about doing this so that I can build up a portfolio and have writing samples for when I apply for jobs.

    3. Just Me*

      With your background, proposal management might be a fit. Lots of project management and detail work, but also a fair bit of writing and editing depending on the organization. Your job experience would translate well and be an easy sell to most proposal teams.

      1. rayray*

        I like this idea. I actually have looked at a few roles like this, I just need to work on tailoring my resume to the positions better.

    4. Steveo*

      re: School counselor. Our district is expecting a 10-25% budget cut for the next fiscal year due to tax revenue declines. I live in a “medium hit” state. I’m sure everyone is in the same situation – so if you are going to apply do it now before they close out the open reqs.

      1. rayray*

        This was a concern of mine, and my state is also looking at education budget cuts – even though education is already severely underfunded. I don’t know if we’re in actual last place, but I think we’re close to it. Education is iffy when you think about pay but I think I could really like the job and would be good at it.

    5. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

      I work in a pathology lab and was hired initially for data entry and all around lab work that didn’t require the education background. My degree was in English with a focus on Creative and Technical Writing, so I took over handling our procedures and protocols from my boss (who is very bad at formal writing and knows it).

      From there, I’ve tailored my skills and abilities into a custom job for the lab. Now, I’m set to leave at the end of the summer to move closer to family (I’ve been away for 12yrs, with 11 at this lab), and we’re trying to hire someone to fill my shoes.

      So I created a writing/editing job through something seemingly unrelated. Downside is I have no idea what I what to do next after I leave here. Most of what is transferable is going to get me far less pay and I’m not even paid super highly now.

    6. Bethlam*

      I’d temped for a bank while finishing graduate school, just a low level admin position, but it meant they knew me – my work ethic, etc. When I left teaching (had both elementary and secondary English certification and a Master’s in English) I reached out to the bank and they were hiring someone for their marketing department and needed someone who could write. I knew nothing about the banking side, but soon found myself learning! I wrote/created brochures, radio ads, branch signage, statement promos, form letters, and other sorts of written material; proofed a lot of correspondence and other written content; and coordinated special events like sales meetings, branch grand openings, anniversary celebrations, etc.

      My next job was with a manufacturing company, and I’d taken it because I wanted something I could leave behind when I went home – so took a lower level job and a bit of a pay cut. And guess what – they found out I could write. Ended up working in Human Resources (no degree, no experience), numerous promotions and pay raises, and a lot of writing, editing, and proofreading.

      So many of my supervisors have talked about how difficult it is anymore to find people with writing skills. Neither of those jobs was full-time writing but, both times, it was my writing ability that landed me the job or the advancement.

    7. Not that kind of doctor*

      Proofreading has been a way into other things for me, especially if you’re not afraid of dealing with material on topics you don’t necessarily understand. After studying English, I fell into an opportunity as a technical editor at a startup, mostly proofreading documentation written by engineers. That kind of role often has room to try your hand at doing some technical writing as well, which allows you to build a portfolio of writing and editing (save some Track Changes versions of your editing for this purpose, assuming the documentation isn’t confidential). It’s also pretty common to see contract gigs for tech writing/editing that run for 3, 6, or 12 months — so if you hate it you can move on promptly. You could probably leverage that into more of a marketing job, but I wasn’t interested in that. I moved into an organizational role in a different technical field, at a university. I was able to point to the work I’d done in re-organizing the documentation and coaching the engineers, and though I was initially hired into a bottom-rung position, they were impressed by the writing background and had their eye on making use of it as my role developed (which it has!).

    8. Fantasma*

      I work in communications at a large company, and we’ve had executive assistants later transition into writing jobs. You might try roles supporting communications executives and get experience that way. If you build a reputation for good work, after some time in the job, you can likely transition into full-time writing or editing roles. Good luck!

  12. Dean Pelton*

    I worked in operations for a large telecommunications firm, but ultimately didn’t see a career path I was interested in. When I was 33 I went back to school full-time and got a diploma in IT management, followed by a bachelor’s in business administration. Now I’m a project coordinator in the IT department of a local college, and I love my job. I have great colleagues and see tangible results from the projects I work on every day.
    I’m also making as much money now as I was at the end of my operations career, and will only be going up from here.

  13. MizA*

    I was an arts administrator and event coordinator, and at 29 decided to pursue my RN. Now, at 40+, have shifted from bedside nursing into clinical informatics. It’s a great mashup of all my skills. It really hasn’t been easy, but it’s been profoundly gratifying to find my fit.

    1. CEO of Cats*

      I love this! I’ve been in arts admin since I graduated college. I’m 28 now and I want to do something more meaningful. I’m not sure what, though. I don’t have a science/math brain but I love organization and data.

    2. Ryan Gosling, Arts Administrator*

      This is an important thread, I think. I also ended up on the arts admin path after getting music degrees and realizing I didn’t want to be a professional musician. Since it has been my job, I feel burnt out and unenthusiastic about music much more often than the opposite. So I urge caution in thinking that X artistic/ creative job would be SO much more rewarding than Y corporate/ day job. You know those days when you’re just like “Ugh, I don’t wanna go to work”? Now imagine you’ve intertwined your favorite, previously pleasurable hobby with that.

  14. annakarina1*

    I wanted to work in publishing in my twenties, and kept trying with various unpaid internships that went nowhere, and felt like I kept hitting a wall. I paid the bills by working a front desk job at a small museum, and was frustrated that my career dreams in the publishing/journalism world weren’t going anywhere. I basically crashed at age 27-28, and had no idea what to do with my life. After a lot of failure, I finally realized that being an archivist was right for me, because I liked organizing books and materials, and learning about history, and it fit me. I got into library school when I was around 29, and finally got paid internships to support myself, and except for a couple of stints of unemployment, have been largely employed in the field in grant-funded jobs for the past seven years. It’s been the best career choice for me, and got me out of my slump of feeling like an immature failure in my twenties, becoming a more mature professional in the industry.

    1. Cookies For Breakfast*

      As someone who also wanted to work in publishing but never found a way in, and knows the fear of being an immature failure very well, I’m so happy to hear you’ve found a career that feels it right. I wish you many more years of fulfilment!

  15. StellaBella*

    I have had two careers, each just over 10 years, and now am embarking on a third. First one – software project management, then… thru volunteering work over the years gains skills to fundraise and in communications, I was in the NGO/non profit world for 10 years…then at age 48 went back to university full time to study something I always had a passion for – environmental protection of marine habitats. I have been a diver since 1987 and first real job after high school, but before college, was in an aquarium, and have been engaged in marine and coastal conservation issues since I was a kid. Now, I am actively searching for work in this field and have some plans falling into place slowly. But as with a lot of folks here the virus has temporarily derailed my original plans. I am optimistic, tho. I still have at least another 2o years of work to do to contribute to a better world.

    1. Brett*

      Cool. I worked for Hopkins Marine Station in collaboration with Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute at one point (I was part of the Tuna Research and Conservation Center) and also the Oregon State Marine Mammal Institute while in grad school. My grad minor was marine resource management and I was a NOAA fellow.
      NOAA is definitely the route to go for what you want to do. One of my friends from grad school is in the NOAA office of legislative and intergovernmental affairs now and another is in the national sea grant offices. They seem pretty happy with their jobs there.

      1. StellaBella*

        Thanks for the pointers Brett. Your career sounds ideal and congrats on being a NOAA Fellow, too. I am not in the USA, tho – but I am aware of some data-related analysis gigs and consultancies with NOAA that may be an option. :)

  16. I*

    I’ve thought about it many times. I am 35, graduated with an extremely basic degree and have never been anything more than a administrative assistant. I regret not going into some sort of a career with animals. Whether it be research, zoology, veterinary etc. I don’t think I have the skills to be a vet, and it comes with a ton of student loan debt. I thought about vet tech, but the pay is very limiting (from what I have read vet techs if you are out there and have other info let me know). Zoology would be fun, but again I feel like pay would be limiting. With a young family who cant afford much more debt, I don’t forsee myself ever changing careers.

    1. RobotWithHumanHair*

      Feel like I’m in a similar boat – 40, basic degree, young family, debt, etc. My previous job was in higher education for 17 years. Now, due to a move out of state, I’ve been working in an entertainment/events-based job…which, of course, has left me furloughed and I have no idea if it’ll ever come back like it was. I’ve looked for other avenues, but the pay is super limiting.

    2. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

      I feel this really hard! I am not old enough to have any meaningful career changes yet, but I steered myself away from animal-focused professions in college because of the pay being so low, or the debt:pay ratio being too high. It’s also really hard to get into vet school, and for what I wanted to do with that degree, I would have had to commit to living in small rural towns for potentially my entire career. I didn’t feel that certain at 19 or 20.

      The way I’ve been able to scratch my animal-loving itch is to volunteer with local rescue groups. I recently was a foster for a dog and have also spent a lot of hours with a shelter down the road from where I live. It can be kind of gross work to some people, but after spending a lot of time on cattle operations, scooping dog poop and cleaning food bowls is very chill by comparison! I still miss the large animals, however, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to satisfy that desire unless I move to a more rural area where I could have my own animals. It’s tough!

    3. LunaLena*

      Have you considered volunteering? I used to volunteer at a shelter where all volunteers were required to help socialize dogs and train them in basic commands. Senior volunteers had additional tasks, like testing dogs for likes/dislikes, introducing dogs to each other, and assisting the vet during routine visits.

      A lot of animal sanctuaries also couldn’t function without volunteers. The Wild Animal Sanctuary in my state, which is an actually well-run one unlike the Tiger King one (in fact some of his tigers ended up there after he was arrested), is mostly maintained by volunteers, especially since they house hundreds of bears, big cats, wolves, and even some camels and emus.

      1. I*

        That’s a good idea to get some work with animals. Part of it, is that is I want to break into a better paying job and I feel stuck. I have never broken the $40k threshold and its frustrating. My family is outgrowing our house and a larger paycheck could help us immensely. Its just frustrating!

        1. GS*

          Living rurally and starting a small farm in my free time was the way I handled having a lower wage and wanting to play with animal & plant selection and breeding: there’s a lower cost of living out here and so I can afford acreage and farm stuff, and rural tends to pay better in my area because it’s hard to find competent people.

          1. knead me seymour*

            ! I’ve always wanted to try starting a small farm in my spare time and it’s encouraging to hear that this can actually be a good strategy.

    4. ampersand*

      Yes, the pay is very limiting. I worked for the Humane Society (granted, this was 13 years ago) and the pay then wasn’t good–it was $10/hour, and difficult work. My sister has a vet tech degree, works with primates, and will likely top out around $40,000/year if she’s lucky. She works insanely long hours but loves her job. I don’t recommend getting into this line of work expecting to make enough money to live comfortably–you would almost certainly need another source of income.

    5. MissGirl*

      I used to think that I had to work in my one true passion field or stay in my low-paying job. I stayed in my low-paying job way too long. I finally realized there was a world of jobs out there I could do that would pay way better. I have a new career making twice what I was. It’s not my one true passion but at least now I have the money to pursue those in my down time.

      Don’t get locked in the idea that you stay at your current job or you work with animals.

    6. Pokeypuppy*

      I’m a vet tech who just hit 40K after 10 years. (Mod to high for my area, I did go to community college for a degree.) Hopefully once I get my specialization it’ll top that but we’ll see.
      If you’re good with people and have managing experience the vet industry needs good managers like crazy. Most doctors don’t have the faintest idea.
      The big offices with specialists are the ones that pay better, in my experience. I know a lot of people who went from admin to vet admin and from there went to train in the back. Smaller clinics require more people to be cross trained. I’d start at a big clinic and then see if you want a smaller clinic to train you for the back. Some places will be really supportive if you want to go back to school for it. Check to see what state you’re in to see if they care about schooling or not. If you’re good under pressure and can handle the unrelenting crazy we see it might be worth it!

  17. Ange*

    I retrained at 29 to move from admin (and attempting to get a career in media) to healthcare (radiographer). There are lots of mature students in that field, so age wasn’t an issue – although one big change was going from having mostly managers who were significantly older to having a lot of managers who were my age or younger. Also moving from working weekdays to doing shifts, and working in a much busier environment.

    I started my course at a time when you were being offered incentives to work at particular hospitals (like having your student loans paid off) and graduated in a time when you had 200 applicants per job, so that was a bit of a shock! However I have been working over 10 years in the field and still really enjoy it.

      1. Ange*

        Sure. Caveat: this is UK-based, as that’s where I trained and work.

        So lots of anatomy and physiology and diseases the first two years (3 year course) – we also learned radiographic techniques, image interpretation, how to assess the quality of the images, radiation physics, specifics on various types of imaging equipment. The course was roughly 50/50 in terms of time spent in clinical placement and time at university, but weighted 75/25 in favour of academic work. The first year was focused on appendicula skeleton (arms/legs), 2nd year was axial skeleton (spine/head) and specialist modalities (CT/MRI etc) and third year was adaptive techniques (for patients who can’t manage the standard techniques). Coursework included one case study a year, several essays on anatomy/physiology/imaging equipment, a clinical assessment and minimum 20 unassisted x-rays on a radiographic technique appropriate to the year of the course, and a giant workbook with mini assessments to be done in each placement location.

        In addition, you were expected to act as a junior member of the clinical department, so you were taking x-rays pretty much straight away.

        1. MayLou*

          This is a very good explanation of the extremely similar training for midwives in the UK. That was one of my many false start careers!

        2. Sled dog mama*

          That sounds pretty close to radiographer training in the US. Source: I teach radiation physics

      2. Amy Sly*

        My dad did this as a second career as well. In the States in the 90s, it was a 2 year course, and it’s been a very good career for him. He did a third year to get an ultrasound cert, and between those two certs, he’s made mid five figures for twenty years, and was in sufficient demand to be able to quit and go elsewhere when Health Medieval treated him poorly.

  18. Art Conservation -> Software Engineer*

    I transitioned from working in art conservation to being a software engineer by going to a programming bootcamp in 2015. I loved conservation (I was working as a lab tech at a museum/library) but the path forward in that career was bleak: taking more undergrad courses to qualify for the two grad school programs in the country, each of which takes only 10 students per year, only half of whom actually get jobs after graduation, low (or no!) pay for years as unpaid, yearlong internships are common, no choice of where you work, and fierce competition against people who are independently wealthy, which I wasn’t. All my older coworkers were telling me to get out, and I listened. I hadn’t written a line of code in my life until about a year beforehand, when a friend introduced me to programming as part of a game. I fell in love with it, studied to get into the bootcamp, got accepted, and had a great experience. I’ve now been a software engineer for ~4 years and I love the field.

    Since 2015, bootcamps have, IMO, gone downhill a bit, so I can’t exactly recommend them whole-heartedly, but I do think they’re great opportunities for some people, just not all. Happy to elaborate more in comments if folks are curious.

    1. Well, that's interesting!*

      I would be very interested in this! I work in a college library’s cataloging department, and I feel like I’m ready for a change (dying field, feelings of uselessness, etc.) I’ve fantasized about becoming a coder or software engineer due to flexibility of working remotely, higher salaries, etc., but I have no real background or existing passion for it…one of my main complaints about my job as it stands is being chained to my chair at a desk in front of a computer, so that is another thing that computer work probably wouldn’t solve. Anyway, any elaborations you’d like to share? ;-)

      1. Art Conservation -> Software Engineer*

        TL;DR Try it out and see if you like it, if you do, go for a bootcamp but beware the bad ones.

        I definitely wouldn’t recommend going to a bootcamp without learning some stuff on your own and trying it out first – programming can be very mentally draining and difficult, and if you don’t think it’s fun you will likely hate it. You should try out some tutorials on Codecademy – I’d start out with JavaScript, Python, or Ruby if you’re interested in web dev. Try it out and see if you like it, and if you do, try building something simple. Get a Github account and display your work. Definitely won’t help you with the “being in front of a computer all day” though – the best I can say about that is that it’s easy to work remotely or from a couch, heh.

        Bootcamp info (fyi this is all based on information from 2015 and people I’ve talked to since then; things may have changed a lot, so take it with a grain of salt):

        Be warned that bootcamps are very high intensity (mine was 6 days a week, ~12 hours a day for 12 weeks), and some have shady practices where they will accept students who would never be successful for the tuition, and then kick them out halfway through for not doing well enough. That obviously doesn’t happen to everyone; there are tons of successful software engineers who come out of bootcamps, but it’s a horrible practice and a risk if you’re applying, because getting in doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to get through the program. I had a great time, met some great people, and was taught and supported by some fantastic staff, but saw that the students who struggled were really SOL. I don’t think this is necessarily intentional by the staff there. My guess is that it was due to pressure over time to increase admission rates, which caused the people designing the admissions processes to lower the bar slowly.

        Since you can’t trust their admissions process as a signal for whether you’ll do well, I strongly recommend not taking any of the “pre-bootcamp” course offerings that some of them offer, and instead studying on your own and making sure you can get in based on what you can pick up online. If you can do that, I think you’ll be fine. IF you enjoy coding and are willing to work your butt off, I think it’s one of the best and fastest ways to make a career transition, and it has completely changed my life.

        There are lower-intensity bootcamps out there that are remote-friendly, or spread out over longer periods of time. I don’t have any experience with those though, and can’t speak to their quality. For any program, I’d definitely demand their post-graduation hiring numbers (make sure they don’t include hiring their own students back as TAs as counting as “got an engineering job”, make sure it’s broken down by title (e.g. intern vs full software engineer)) and ask to talk to former students. Ask what kind of job hunting support you’ll get – my program literally spent half the time prepping for interviews and it was time well-spent, and the job support staff were incredibly hard workers. Without them, many people would not have gotten jobs.

        I realize all the above makes bootcamps as a whole sound like a shady scam – I also thought they had to be too good to be true when I heard about them! When they’re good, they’re great, and the good bootcamps can work wonders for the majority of students who go through. I just think people aren’t aware enough of the risks and want to help prevent people from going in blind.

      1. Art Conservation -> Software Engineer*

        The game was Elevator Saga! (https://play.elevatorsaga.com/) – nowadays, the JS is pretty old, but it’s still fun! It’s an optimization game where you have to program an elevator – much harder and more interesting than it seems. And thank you! :)

    2. AccidentalGardener*

      I’m interested in learning more. I’ve taken a couple of online coding courses and found out that I’m more interested in backend work. Its so hard to programs that focus on that type of stack work. I’m working in medical device process development and want something with the possibility of more flexibility and remote work

    3. Cookies For Breakfast*

      I know many people who went through bootcamps (not in the US) and have the names of a couple they recommend. One of these has the completion of certain achievements on FreeCodeCamp as one of the entry requirements, so I was planning to achieve those in my own time. It’s great fun but very slow going, as my day job (in tech but not coding) is draining me. It’s been almost a year of trying to learn to code in my own time and I’ve made nowhere near the progress I hoped.

      So my question for you or anyone who has had this experience is: when you say bootcamps are intensive, do you mean there is no way to make them (or some of them) work around a full time job? I have a set of anxieties about losing my steady paycheck with no confidence of being employable elsewhere, so don’t see myself quitting the day job to pursue a new skill I’m very interested in, but I may end up not being good enough at.

      1. Art Conservation -> Software Engineer*

        For the type of bootcamp I went to, there’s no way to make it work around a full-time job. There are other bootcamps that have started that are part-time and meant to be evenings and weekends, but I don’t know much about them.

    4. e*

      Thanks for your insight! I’ve been thinking a lot about whether to do a boot camp, but would be doing it less to learn how to program (I minored in computer science & feel pretty comfortable self-learning) and more so I could put my career change front & center and have dedicated time to study & work on projects, rather than trying to stuff it into evenings and weekends. I haven’t met anyone else who has wanted to use a bootcamp in quite this way – do you think it would be plausible, or too intense?

      1. Art Conservation -> Software Engineer*

        It’s possible, and probably would work, but it’s pretty expensive… if you’re willing to take the time for the bootcamp but already have a CS background anyway, it’s way cheaper to just take the time off and do self-study if the primary benefit would just be time. If your goal is to have a supportive community, learn new things from the instructors, have a curriculum that’s specifically designed to make you hireable, and get job hunt support, that might make sense. Either way, since you have a formal CS education, if you do go through the bootcamp I’d leave it off your resume and promote the formal training you have, as there’s an industry bias against bootcampers (somewhat well-deserved given the vastly varying quality of bootcamps out there).

        1. e*

          Thanks, that’s really good advice! You do a really nice job of laying out the pros and cons and given what you’ve said, sounds like bootcamp isn’t for me. It was a tempting dream to get away from burnout though ;)

  19. FirstDayBackHurts*

    I have changed careers twice. I started out as a chef at a very young age (age 14-24) and then became a college English professor (with two published books). And I am now a career counselor for an engineering school (and writing for love instead of money). There are two key components. The first is to make sure you have the right credential to do the job you intend to pursue. If there is a specific credential required, you will make no progress without it (an example would be a CPA license). If you still want to write, that likely requires experience and not a specific degree or certificate, but you could still take a screen writing class or two to boost your skills. Then pursue getting the experience on the side to build up a resume. Write for small local theaters or creative nonprofits who need volunteers. Find someone to collaborate on for short short films and start a YouTube channel. Write other things for publication, even in your accounting field, and then branch out. And while you build a resume and a portfolio, make sure you are meeting people in the field you want to pursue. Who you know matters tremendously in the creative fields, especially in TV or film. It may take a few years to make that big of a shift, but you can do it if you pursue it with intention. You can do it!

  20. Another name*

    A really annoying thing – applying to tech jobs as a mid life career changer and being asked during screening interviews, What was your GPA in college? (Like I remember).

    1. Marny*

      Seriously. I’m an attorney who has been trying to move into a new practice area. Law firms still ask for my transcripts from law school. I graduated from law school in 2001.

      1. Now In the Job*

        I seriously don’t understand this line of thinking, too. Are they still looking for a top 10% of the class graduate? Do they care what courses you took? Why does journal still matter? Surely, because 20 years out most of those people certainly aren’t already picking up pace on getting into the judiciary…. :P

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I hate that question. If you legitimately earned the degree, it’s irrelevant.

    3. rayray*

      I find this so ridiculous as well. Why does GPA matter when I am an adult that graduated years ago. I just always make it up to what sounds right but I genuinely have no idea.

    4. JohannaCabal*

      Even worse…years back some companies were asking for your SAT scores.

      I told myself if that happened, I would just give them what I thought it was, even if it wasn’t the exact number as I’ve actually forgotten my score. Plus, they’ve changed the test a few times since the late ’90s.

      1. Sled dog mama*

        Yes!!! My SAT scores were great the year I took them, a few years later my brothers were taking them and told me their total scores (we have to compete at everything) and I was like WTF? How are your scores that much better than mine? Then I learned that SAT had added a section so my brothers had actually not done as well if you looked at % of possible score but just raw numbers they had higher scores

      2. Pretzelgirl*

        I was terrible test taker in college! My SAT was horrendously awful. I am surprised I got into undergrad. I think it was my GPA that saved me. I was 3.5 student who got a below average score, like way below. It would be mortified to give it out in my mid-30s, lol.

        1. Pretzelgirl*

          Also I applied for a job right as I was graduating college. It was at a pizza shop. I was looking for something to hold me over until I could get a professional post college job. They asked my HS GPA and extra curricular activities. I was like you do know, I just graduate college last week right?

      3. DataGirl*

        My SATs were nearly 30 years ago- I have NO CLUE what I scored. I remember I did well on my GREs in the early 2000’s- but I don’t remember those scores either. That’s just ridiculous.

    5. D3*

      Yup. I was asked about my HIGH SCHOOL gpa a few weeks ago. I graduated from high school in 1989, and college in 1996. I don’t remember either number, honestly.

    6. Therese TAG*

      Plus, because of grade inflation, a typical graduate from decades ago will have a GPA that is likely lower for the same quality of academic work compared to someone graduating today. For example, my sister, who recently earned a graduate degree, had a GPA of 4.3. When I was in grad school, the highest possible GPA was 4.0.

  21. SQL Coder Cat*

    I’ve changed careers twice.

    I started off in medical research. I had an MS degree and had loved the work I did in graduate school. I quickly found out two things: the interesting parts of the projects go to the graduate students, and the positions are very grant dependent. When my position was eliminated due to grant loses, I decided to see what else was out there. I was required to take mandatory career counseling as part of my unemployment, which included a skills assessment. Based on the tests, my counselor recommended I apply for a customer service representative position open at a local call center for a major auto manufacturer.

    I was really hesitant at first, but then I found out the jobs paid significantly more than I’d been earning with my master’s degree. During my interviews, I focused on transferable skills like problem-solving. I made sure to emphasize that I was looking to make a permanent career switch. The hiring manager later told me that she wouldn’t have hired me without those reassurances.

    I worked in the call center industry for 15 years. During that time, I worked my way into the lower rungs of management. I’ve always been a computer hobbyist, and the reports and monitoring tools I created for myself impressed my bosses enough that a full time report writer position was created for me. I loved the work, but after a year there was a management shake up at the center and I did not love the new bosses so I started job searching.

    A small local university was looking for a report writer, and I took the job. Shortly after I took the job, there was an opening for a business analyst for the systems team. I knew my bosses had been impressed with my insights while working on reports, so I went ahead and applied. They decided to take a chance on me. I’ve been a systems analyst for 6 years now, all in higher ed, and I love it.

    In my experience, focusing on transferable skills from previous positions is what will get your foot in the door. Best of luck to you, OP.

    1. Grapey*

      Same. “You learned SQL and can build reports to measure metrics for the very specialized non-tech domain you have a degree in?” Opened lots of doors for me.

    2. E*

      Yes, for those interested in software engineering/programming/data work, there is a lot to be said for finding what needs some computational attention around your office and just doing it. Like, that report everyone fills in by hand that takes an hour every day could probably be automated. You could write a little computer program to clean the data. You could make a cute little website for your team. Etc. You’ll pick up the skills you want while getting paid to do so, and you’ll become a superstar in your office.

  22. Batgirl*

    I honestly think a lot of competitive fields are overrated and many of the established professions are kinda predicated on the idea of exploitation of the young. The thinking seems to be: ‘They’ll start young so we can crush a lot of juice out of them before they have family commitments’. I was willing to be exploited as a young reporter but when I made the career change to teaching I was less willing and I ended up making a much more unique path than the typical entry route. I see this a lot with career changers. They try the main gates first, think “hell nope” then end up either creating their own role, or finding something field-adjacent which is more money and better life balance.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      Agreed 100%. In my experience, “glamor” fields eat their young. And the fields that rely on a passion for the cause underpay and overwork. It’s fine to see work as work and put one’s passion into one’s hobbies or family or whatever, as long as you are well paid and work a reasonable number of hours. (It’s really tough to suck it up and tough it out if you HATE the job AND it demands tons of overtime, leaving you no time for the stuff you really do love)

      1. Cedrus Libani*

        Supply and demand. If there is an endless supply of people who desperately want your job, such that you could be replaced in an instant by someone just as good…why would they ever pay you a living wage, or even treat you with respect?

        Yes, you’re talented. Yes, you’ve devoted your whole life to this. There are more people like you than there are jobs. Thus, some of you aren’t going to get a job at all, and the rest of you are going to get exploited, because you are easily replaceable and everyone knows it.

        In such cases, finding a new career is like planting a tree; the best time to do it would have been 20 years ago, but the second best time is today.

      2. E*

        Totally agree. Also a big proponent of finding the cool parts of unglamorous fields — you get to do cool work with not that much competition.

    2. anon for this*

      I have an extremely pragmatic colleague who weighed his financial options between corporate work or becoming a professional athlete. He’s on track to be very successful very young in the corporate world (we joke that he’ll be our boss one day, but it’s not really a joke).

      I joke about being a corporate drone, but there are benefits to having a stable job that gives me the financial strength to live a comfortable life, pursue my passions, and support causes I care about. My hobbies are a lot less fun when I’m trying to make money with them.

  23. Jules the 3rd*

    Grad school. In my early 30s, I moved from jobs in retail, non-profit, tech support to a career in supply chain thanks to an MBA and the school’s career center. It’s been satisfying and financially rewarding. I suspect other degrees or certifications can be used too – I started the shift with accounting classes at the local community college.

  24. Magenta*

    I have a degree in Philosophy, and a long history of working in retail and customer service. But then in my early-ish 30s, when I’d just about settled on building that into an actual career, I instead came across a job advert looking for trainee programmers. Specifically for Cobol, which is an ancient language no one teaches any more but is still used in a lot of places (you may have seen stuff recently about the governor of New Jersey looking for Cobol programmers to maintain the unemployment system now it’s seeing a bunch of extra use due to the covids).

    I thought it looked like fun so I applied, got hired and seven years later I’m making almost triple what I used to get in retail. So definitely the right move, but reliant on more than a bit of luck and willingness to take a risk

  25. Call Me Dr. Dork*

    I have a PhD in the physical sciences. After a couple of postdocs, the employment market for what I wanted to do (more research than teaching) was pretty grim, so I jumped into software development. In retrospect, the sexism was also horrid in academia; I’ve been underestimated in IT (particularly in startups), but not subject to the toxicity I ran into as a scientist. Now I work for a largish company with a real commitment to diversity and supporting employees, and will be happy to stay for a while.

    1. blackcat*

      I’ve heard this a lot from other female physical sciences/engineering PhDs. Industry ends up being far less sexist than academia most of the time.

      1. menthaspicata*

        Government, too. My partner got a federal job after their postdoc and, like, actually works with and for other women now. Some of them even have kids! It’s a much different (better) environment than academic physics.

    2. ph.done*

      How did you get into software development? What skills did you have from academia, and what skills did you have to learn in your first year on the job? I’m thinking about something similar, but my research didn’t involve that much hard programming/coding.

      1. Call Me Dr. Dork*

        I did a moderate amount of programming as a grad student and post doc, but it wasn’t my focus. I was in a relatively small field, so any software changes needed to analyze data, etc. were done on the fly. None of the languages I used then were ones I’ve used out of academia, though.

        What I’ve found is that the independent research and problem solving required to get and use a Ph.D. is a selling point (also not being scared of math). My first two jobs used software packages and languages that I did not know, but I told them that I was a fast learner (and the Ph.D. helps with that, rightly or not) and I mastered stuff quickly when I was trained. If you find a job description that offers to train people on their esoteric software, that might be a good way in. Even the weakest on-the-job training seems pretty easy compared to “learn everything about subject X and then figure out how to do additional research on it”!

    3. PostDr.*

      Did you already do programming as part of your research? Trying to figure out my own next move from a humanities PhD and now the lackluster job market has been totally destroyed.

      1. Call Me Dr. Dork*

        I replied about this above – I think coming from the physical sciences really helped with the programming side of things. But the problem solving and independent work for a humanities Ph.D. are valuable skills, and perhaps you have a lot of writing experience as well.

    4. cold toes*

      As a female PhD in physics, I’ll absolutely echo this: academia is totally toxic to female physicists (in my experience. Hopefully that’s not universally true). I’m now working as a scientist in a small start-up. Not really software dev, though I do write a lot of code. There’s definitely a very thick, very opaque glass ceiling, but it’s not toxic in the way academia was.

  26. Marny*

    I’ve been trying to do this for the past 2 years and it’s been incredibly difficult. It’s extremely hard to be convincing that I’m willing to start from the bottom despite having 17 years of professional work under my belt (albeit in a different field), and it’s hard to convince employers that I’m not too set in my ways to learn new things.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Same. If you’re unemployed due to the coronavirus or for any other reason, it’s even harder.

      I’ve applied for a ton of freelance jobs and gotten nowhere, so I’ve been working on my own projects. When asked what I’ve been doing, I mention specific ways they required me to either repurpose current skills or teach myself new ones. Example: designing a book cover/bookmark, video production for the trailer, manuscript layout, learning screenplay software, etc.

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Yup. I tried. I failed. I’m back to the same job title I had as a teenager, right down to the same pay. My degree was worthless. Thankfully I married well so I have health insurance and can afford housing and things.

  27. Oryx*

    I started working in the library in my hometown when I was 16, went off to grad school and got my MLIS and worked as a librarian for about 7 or 8 years. Then, I took a job with a library vendor but was still working in a collection development capacity so it didn’t feel like a big change.

    Two years ago our marketing department had an opening and I took the jump. I was 36 at the time of the transfer and now work in Communications and absolutely love it. I’m still working library adjacent but the work is very different and I absolutely love it. It’s the perfect combination of my writing background (BFA in creative writing) and MLIS.

  28. honey honey*

    I went back to school at 28 (not exactly mid-life) and became a software engineer. I’m so much happier in this career, and much better at it, than my last one, which was a mishmash of writing, marketing, customer success, etc. I’m lucky that my second career is much more suited to me and significantly more lucrative than the first.

    I do see why there’s a pipeline straight out of tech for women though. Even only 4 years in I’m so tired of some of the bullshit I have to deal with on the daily.

  29. Working Hypothesis*

    I spent my early adulthood doing admin work while training to be a teacher, but never finished school due to chronic illness. Eventually, I stopped working altogether for a few years while my kids were very young.

    When I was 38, we figured out what the illness was and got me treatment for it, and a couple of years later I found myself a single parent who needed to do something to keep a roof over our heads. Since I’d never actually got my teaching license and it was the middle of the Great Recession and a terrible time to try and get admin work with no recent experience, I fell back on the doula training I’d once done mostly for the fun of it; and since there was a lot of competition for births for self-employed doulas in my area, my mother suggested that I get a massage license so I’d have something a little extra to offer my doula clients.

    It took me all of ninety minutes in the first day’s class for me to realize that I didn’t want to be a doula with a little bit of massage therapy on the side; I wanted to be a massage therapist with a little bit of doula work on the side. I was completely in love with massage. I got my license and have been a massage therapist ever since… and I can truly say that although I’ve had days like everyone else does when I didn’t really want to go in to work in the morning, I’ve never once had a workday when I wasn’t glad, by the time it was done, that I’d been there instead of somewhere else doing something else that day. I love my job. Right now I’m on furlough because nobody has figured out a way yet to do professional licensed massage therapy from six feet apart, but my clinic has been amazing about how they have handled this whole pandemic, and they have been very clear: when they can reopen, we all have our jobs back. If we don’t feel safe coming back yet by that time, our job will be waiting for us whenever we do feel that we can return. All previously accumulated seniority, PTO, etc will apply whenever we come back, whether we do it right away or months later — we’re not rehires, we always belonged there.

    I don’t know that I have a ton of advice for midlife career changes other than “find a field that’s actually hiring.” I got away with changing careers in the middle of the recession because I went into health care, and it was the one industry that was actually hiring at a substantial rate in my area. There was a need for more massage therapists than there were massage therapists, and from what I heard, every member of my class got a job directly out of school.

    My age wasn’t a factor because the clinics needed therapists. Period. If they’d had a chance to be more picky, they probably would have, and not chosen a 45-year-old single mom who had no experience in the field and no work experience of any kind for the previous eight or nine years. But they didn’t have that chance; they needed therapists, and I had a license, so they gave me an interview and practical, decided they liked my work, and I got hired at the first place I applied.

    I think it’s much harder to break into a new field in midlife if you have a specific field you’re certain you want to do, than if you are willing to do anything in a fairly wide range and can pick an industry that’s hiring. For example, “I want to work in health care,” or “I want to work outdoors and be active all the time,” should be easy to accommodate, because there’s almost certainly *something* within the broad range that has a crying need for new employees. If you can pick your new field based on which one it is, you’ll be fine; nobody cares about age when they desperately need somebody who can do the work. Especially if they know that all their competitors also desperately need somebody, so you won’t last on the market for long.

    It’s much harder if you’ve got your heart set on one specific field. I never did that so I can’t really speak to it. But it’s stymied a few of my friends.

  30. Clisby*

    My first degree was in journalism, and I worked in that field (reporter, editor, copy editor) for almost 14 years.
    At about year 11, I decided to go back to school for a computer science degree. (I had gotten interested in programming through my newspaper work – this was when newsrooms were just starting to get computerized.)
    I moved to Charleston, SC, and did my CS work during the day, and worked on the night copy desk at the local paper (generally about 4 p.m. to midnight). Worked as a programmer from 1988 until I retired in 2015. (The last 17-18 years were entirely remote.)

    1. Clisby*

      Adding … while journalism and computer programming might seem very different, my journalism background was a huge asset in my CS job (all with the same company). If you think about it, what journalists are trained to do – research (sometimes quite complex issues), and explain them in language ordinary people can understand – is a big part of many CS jobs. (I personally worked with 4 journalists who put in a few years at a newspaper, went to law school, and practiced law. The same is true of that combination.)

      1. Clisby*

        It was my dream city back in the 80s when I went back to school for my CS degree. Now? It’s overrun with tourists, every spare lot downtown is being used to build a hideously ugly hotel, and the flooding gets worse every year.

        1. Clisby*

          I moved away in 1988 and didn’t come back until late 2004, and learned in the interim that Columbus, OH, and Atlanta, GA, were fine places to live.

  31. irritable vowel*

    I’m in my mid-40s and recently “retired” as a librarian after 20+ years in the field completely burned me out. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do next (and I get that it’s a huge luxury to be able to do so). Even in adjacent industries, I’m finding that the jobs I’m qualified for will likely mean a lower salary than what I was making as a mid/upper level person in my previous career. Totally understandable. So I’m finding this list of criteria for considering jobs that Esme Wang posted on Twitter to be extremely helpful in figuring out if an opportunity is worth it for me:

    1. Does this make financial sense?
    2. Is this a good use of my time?
    3. Do I trust the people putting this on?
    4. Does this disrupt my time at home?
    5. How much labor does this ask of me?
    6. Geographically, does this work for me?
    7. Am I serving a community I want to serve with this?

    For her, a score of 4/7 means she would say yes to it.

    1. Well, that's interesting!*

      Oooh, I’m feeling this — burned out on library work in my mid-30s, but I’m the household breadwinner. How did you swing your early “retirement”? Saving like crazy, and/or lower cost of living or a partner with high earnings?

      1. irritable vowel*

        I wrote a whole long thing and then decided it was revealing too many details that could identify me, and I’d prefer to stay as anon as possible here! A shorter version is that I’m doing it through a combo of savings and an unexpected inheritance. It’s not an easy-to-replicate situation, and if I were 10 years younger (like you are) I would probably be considering going back to school, even part-time, to be able to change careers. I didn’t do that, but I did do some freelance work as a side-hustle when I was in my 30s that I’ve been able to go back to now, to have a little money coming in and keep my resume fresh. So, that’s something to consider as well.

    2. Tired Librarian*

      Oh my gosh, yes. I’m 38 and have been a librarian almost 10 years with about 10 years retail management before that. I’m burntout and done with the public but have no idea where to go from here. I love the checklist.

    3. Lepidoptera*

      Question:
      What is causing the burnout in yours and other librarians in this thread?
      – Early career librarian.

      1. irritable vowel*

        Good question! Warning: this is not going to be a pep talk. :) I think a certain amount of burnout in librarianship comes from what has been termed “vocational awe” – the feeling that what you are doing really *matters* and you’re changing people’s lives, etc. And it’s a field where people tend to make their work part of their identity. Well, guess what happens when you encounter the common frustrations of almost any kind of work and feel unempowered to effect change, see new initiatives through, etc., but that’s tied up with how you see yourself as a person? It’s hugely demoralizing and hard to just shake off at the end of the day. For myself, I tried really hard to make my job just a job, and not talk about it much outside of work, but at the end of the day, especially in academic libraries which is where I worked, seeing again and again that what you do is undervalued and underfunded, gets really tiring. I also just spent half my life in this field and it wasn’t something I wanted to keep doing for the rest of my working life! That being said, it paid really well and had great benefits, and I’m now looking at earning a lot less in any new field I move to, so there’s that.

        1. Lepidoptera*

          Don’t worry, I didn’t think it would be lol.
          I definitely see some vocational awe in myself in the way I view librarianship and the work I do, but at the same time I am reminded that just because the work is important doesn’t mean that everyone values it (e.g. people in sanitation feeling like they have to lie about their job even though sewage management is something that affects everyone).
          Thank you for reminding me to watch out for it :)

      2. Tired Librarian*

        Honestly, I think my burnout comes from being in management. I have been managing people for almost 20 years and I’m just done. If I could just order books, answer reference questions and plan/give programs, I don’t think I’d feel like this.

  32. Star Trek*

    college 1st 2 years – computer programming (I wanted to do animation and back in the dark ages, thats how it was done)
    college 2nd 2 years – economics (realized I DIDNT want to be a computer programmer and wanted to graduate with as soon as possible with the classes I had already taken)
    1st “job” – accountant in industry
    2nd “job” – accountant in industry
    laid off and zigged into my side hustle – was a sole proprietor for 20 years in completely different industry
    3rd “job” – went back to school at age 48 to fulfill credit requirements and got my CPA license – then got job as CFO in industry

    So at I’ve zigged in and out of several different industries. First zig I had worked at my side hustle for almost 2 years before I made the jump (and had been socking away my day job salary for one year to see if I could live on income from side hustle and save a years worth of expenses etc) 2nd zig I was looking for more stability and less hours (running your own business is a 24/7 kind of endeavor) so I worked REALLY hard to get the necessary licensing and certification to go back into employment status

    Biggest advice – be prepared – dont think that you can just work in something cause you love it and the money will come. Have savings (more than you think youll need), network, and learn/get certifications if available in your field. Finally, depending on what youre doing, volunteer.

  33. HV*

    Great idea for a post.
    My undergrad is in Economics. I worked for mutual fund companies after college, with an emphasis on problem resolution for high net worth relationships, MF company trustees, etc. I began volunteering for my church as a youth minister and found that my volunteer work was much more fulfilling than my paid work, so I made the switch 20 years ago, and went to school about 10 years in for my Masters degree in Theology.
    Obviously the technical knowledge from my first career did not carry over to my second, but the relationship management skills definitely did. Going back to school increased my self-confidence exponentially.

  34. LQ*

    The organization I worked for collapsed when I was 30 and I grabbed the first job I could (it was in the last recession) which was pretty entry level government job. I’m now a director in the agency. It sounds kind of random, but I spent a lot of time looking around for other options and moving in a direction I wanted to go. I kind of saw 2 strong directions my career could shift. I thought I knew what would be easy, though less fun for me. But I did a bunch of informational interviews and took classes and leaned hard into the direction I wanted to go. Every project that came up on the side I wanted to go I took and with great gusto. I took the things I didn’t want to keep doing off my resume. I never talked about them at my new job until I was years in and well established as the thing I wanted to do.

    I don’t know that I could have gotten a mid level job doing what I wanted from where I had been, but I was able to sort of up and to the side the ladder enough times to get some where I wanted to go. (I think.)

    1. rayray*

      I like this. This is one route I could see myself going, just landing a random job I hadn’t thought of and moving up from there. I just have never felt like I had a super specific career path in mind, and while I wanted to do something writing/editing/communications etc those jobs are SO competitive so I am really reconsidering even trying anymore.

      Another thing for me that relates is that my most recent position was admin/exec assistant and I HATED it. I think a lot of it was having a horrible micromanaging boss but it’s also quite often a very demeaning job. I try to highlight certain achievements on my resume, but because that title is still there I get recruiters reaching out or companies indicating interest and asking me to apply on ziprecruiter. I just don’t feel like I can do it again so I have considered trying to put a different job title there. I don’t want to come off as dishonest, but having that title on there is generating interest exactly where I don’t want it. I do address it in my cover letter when I apply places though. It’s just one of those jobs that make it so hard to ever find anything else. Once you’ve done it , it’s as if people just can’t see you as anything else. Honestly, google “Pink Collar Ghetto” if you don’t believe me and you will find many articles and forums of people discussing exactly this problem

      1. rayray*

        Sorry, didn’t exactly tie up my point, but I brought that up when you mentioned leaving things off your resume that you didn’t want to keep doing, and that’s why I have a dilemma about the admin role I recently had.

        1. Lilith*

          I recently made the change from being an admin/EA to project management, and I’m pretty sure that I lost out on a few opportunities because recruiters saw the job title and 10 years of admin job history and didn’t look further.

          I did get a much better interview rate with smaller organisations though – I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but I didn’t get anywhere with big companies while the small ones seemed way more open minded. From my experience, small companies usually have much broader job descriptions so I was able to really lean into my transferable skills and say ‘I have experience in doing A B and C and can learn D and E, and can also do the unasked-for X and Y which would be helpful in this job’ as no-one would be able to fit all their criteria.

          1. rayray*

            That’s what I am trying to focus on. I haven’t had the same experience as you, but it’s been all over the place. I think I could enjoy something like project management and I’ve eyed few roles like that to see if I might be qualified. It gives me hope that I can escape the hell that is admin work.

            1. Lilith*

              If it gives you hope, I thought I would have go right back to entry level to get into Project Management and so would be competing with the school-leavers but I actually managed to find a great job that is technically the lowest in the team (but it’s only a 3-person team), that pays more than the old job, and has great development potential and a supportive manager.

              I’d done a very basic PM qualification beforehand (literally just bought the textbook and took the exam, no course) but otherwise it was all my already-existing skills.

  35. bunniferous*

    I began my career in real estate around age 54. Although for most jobs in this field it helps to be extroverted I found my niche working in sales for foreclosures. I chose not to work with buyers so I only have to talk to other agents, the property preservation vendors, and communicate with the seller (in my case, the VA.) Half the job is in the field, the other is in front of my computer.

    The real estate field has many niches. Right now the team concept seems to be a popular one, with some folks working as transaction coordinators and some more out in the field doing the actual showings or listings. If you are comfortable with technology, your age does not have to hold you back and in some cases can be an advantage. Plus I know people who are still happily doing this as a career in their late 70s and beyond-you do not have to retire unless you want to. If you want the security of a 9 to 5 job and a regular paycheck, this might not be exactly what you are looking for but for me it was the gateway to a satisfying career after raising my family and working a string of deadend jobs.

    1. Valleyhome*

      Omg! This is exactly what I needed to hear. I’m approaching 50s and real estate is my dream field. Currently working on a transition from a demanding corporate job. My spouse supports me, but we depend on my paycheck. It will happen, just will take time. If you have any advice, let me know. Thanks.

    2. NomadiCat*

      This sounds fascinating! One of my parents got into Real Estate a couple of years ago and they are… not great with clients. Can you please share a bit more about the kind of work you do? I’m only familiar with the classic Commercial and Ressential. My parent is fantastic at the fiddly detail bits, but I’d love to help find a way to get them less contact with the poor, unsuspecting general public.

    3. MMB*

      I’m in property management right now and your job sounds incredibly interesting! And quiet. So, so quiet.

    4. The New Wanderer*

      I know a handful of people who switched careers to real estate and one who is doing it as a side gig for now. My mom considered it for a while in her 50s, particularly home appraisals, but didn’t end up pursuing it. She still goes to every open house in the area though, I think she always liked the possibilities.

  36. Lynn*

    My two pieces of 2 cents (so I guess, my 4 cents total)

    1) You may be able to develop transferable skills in a job that is largely a non-transferable subject matter. I started looking at jobs to see what types of positions piqued my interest and what they required. I found tableau to be a common theme of requirements in jobs I was interested in — so I worked with my manager to develop a plan to make that a stretch learning goal for my current job. The industry I am in won’t be relevant to other jobs, but this experience will be.

    2) Keep an open mind — things may work out for you, but possibly not in the way you expect. Maybe you find a part-time or volunteering gig on the side to pursue your passion without pursuing your passion full-time.

    Also, “Designing Your Life” is a good book to start with!

  37. Elizabeth West*

    I’m gonna take issue with 29 being “too old” to be a TV writer. Having a family takes time away from the massive amount of work you have to do to establish yourself in ANY competitive field. Even without that, there are a million reasons why it might not have happened.

    When James Ivory won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay at 89, that made me realize it’s never too late. Sure, he had a long career before that, but plenty of newbies have made it to the nomination stage.

    Nothing is impossible and nobody is “too old” for anything, really. Of course, it may be a sore spot for me because today is my birthday and I can now order off the special menu at Denny’s, but that doesn’t mean my life is over.

    1. Princess Scrivener*

      Happy birthday, fellow old-timer! And I agree. I started my military career at 24 (super late), my second career in technical writing at 54, and my third “dream job” career as a part-time certified personal trainer at 58. So…

      1. anonabon*

        Hello, technical writing question:

        51 here and no degree, although I have self-taught background and tech school training for graphic design. Working in marketing for a small technical company. Pay is okay but title is… unimpressive. Future titles with no degree also look… unimpressive.

        Looking at starting back to school for that almighty associate’s degree (lol) and on to bachelor’s. Debating between technical writing and web design.

        Any advice?

        1. Princess Scrivener*

          anonabon, I got my writing job by interviewing for a different job, so I’m not going to be much help, sorry. My future boss and I talked about my research and writing skills and passion, and the job was created for me. I do have a slew of degrees (none are writing-related), for which I did a bunch of research and writing, which definitely helps, but my career change was a matter of being in the right place at the right time and interviewing with someone who had a gap to fill. I will say in my company, we’re not so driven by a degree as by how well someone fits into our culture and in a job, so you may just need to see what’s out there. Good luck to you!

          1. anonabon*

            Thanks for taking the time to reply!

            I think you’re right, that I need to see what’s out there with a serious job search. It may turn out that the lack of degree bothers me more than it does any employers.

  38. azvlr*

    I was a middle-school math teacher for ten years. Some of the classes in my Masters degree program shed light on what I actually want to do with my life – Instructional Design. I was 45 when started my new career and graduated a few months later. It is possible to switch to a new career without a degree, although my coursework did help. This job was in a corporate setting, which was the most difficult part of the change for me. Schools are very much DIY, if you want something, you make it happen (raise the money, spend your own, bring supplies from home, etc.). At my company, they thought I was odd for wanting to bring my own chair in, because they had a process for that. My manager and co-workers were on the other side of the country. I never met most of them in person.

    I’m now at a much smaller organization that is in the education field. I don’t regret the time I spent at Big Company, but I’m much happier being back in education. Something to consider.

    I mentioned that I got my job before my degree was complete. When I first started applying, I was told I didn’t have enough experience. I got some fantastic experience during an internship, and I changed the wording on my resume from “taught 6th grade math” to the more specific wording used in my field: designed, developed, implemented and assessed 6th grade math classes. I didn’t fabricate anything on my resume, but made sure it reflected an awareness of the concepts used in my new field.

    There are so many new things I’m trying the older I get that younger me would have never dared to try. Please never give up on your dreams!

    1. Properlike*

      I’m interested to hear about your path into instructional design and the corporate world. Similar background to yours, plus another career in writing. I like the performative/interactive aspect of teaching but not the lack of pay.

      1. azvlr*

        I hadn’t intended to leave teaching, and when I started my program I thought I was going to be using tech in the classroom and/or delving into online teaching. I didn’t know Instructional Design was even a thing until I took a class on it as an elective.
        I did a short gig as a Tech Writer, which was essentially an eLearning Developer. This gig opened a lot ofother doors for me, since recruiters were calling multiple times a day wanting to fill Tech Writer roles. There are a lot of different job titles we could go by: Learning and Development Specialist, Training Development, eLearning Developer, Instructional Designer, Training Coordinator, Training Project Manager. There many similarities, but also subtle differences in each of these job titles. The work I did for Big Corp was so very different from what I do now.

        I got a substantial pay increase going from teaching to Big Corp and a nearly equal increase going to Higher Ed.

  39. Loopy*

    I’ve changed careers twice by 31! I started as an archivist, became a technical writer, and then just made the jump to business process and systems analyst. I am not able to type a long reply now but would be happy to answer any questions after the work day if folks are willing to check back!

    Also curious for someone else I know if any folks have made a transition from F&B (including some management in the field) to a career without going back to school?

    1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

      How did you make the transition from archivist to technical writing? I’ve wondered about making that sort of a change myself (I love archives but where I am has no archival jobs).

      1. Loopy*

        So sorry I didn’t get back to this sooner! I really focused on the finding aid part of my archivist job in my technical writer interview, taking lots of information and creating an accessible, clear written guide. I also focused on how I had to manage tone, uniformity, being concise, polished, following professional and organizational standards, etc. Fortunately I also had finding aids online I could point to as examples of how I could present written information in a clear, concise, orgainzed way, that wouldn’t overwhelm a user and would help them find what they need. That was really the connection I made between the two jobs! I also had an English undergrad degree which may have helped, though I didn’t focus on it.

    2. ampersand*

      I would love to be a business analyst but keep finding that I don’t have the tech skills/experience for it. I’ve done technical writing in prior jobs, though I was never a technical writer, per se.

      How difficult was it to make the jump from tech writer to analyst? Were there skills or experience in your new career that you needed but didn’t yet have? Did it require additional education?

      Thanks for being open to answering questions!

      1. Loopy*

        Hi! I didn’t need to go back to school prior to getting the job, but am getting certified now. I made the jump because I stayed in the same industry and could use a lot of my familiarity with the industry norms and relationships across both jobs but also I found a company open to training and mentoring someone in the role if they showed the right soft skills. I will say I was lucky because the company was open to training me since I showed a lot of the right personality and general industry familiarity.

        If you are serious about making the jump, getting a certification may help you get your foot in the door since I know that was the first thing my company got me started on.

  40. Kenzi Wood*

    I was a marketer for 5 years, quit my job, and became a self-employed content writer. I LOVE IT.

    Now, there are a lot of similarities to the two fields, and I still use my marketing knowledge a lot. I think it helps to pick something tangentially related to your specialization/knowledge/interests.

    I started writing as a side hustle and did that on nights and weekends for years. Eventually, I had a big enough client list that it made financial sense to jump off and do my own thing.

    I appreciate all the knowledge gained in my time as a marketer, but I realized that I needed the freedom and flexibility of working for myself.

    I have zero regrets, even during COVID. :)

    1. Box of Kittens*

      Could you expand some on how you started writing on the side? Did you use sites for freelancers?

    2. BasicWitch*

      This makes me happy to read! I’ve been trying to break into freelance writing and it’s slow going, but every time I read a success story I want to keep going.

  41. Teapot Designer*

    Graduated college with a major in Teapot History, but effectively minored in Teapot Design Software.

    Post-graduation, the path to becoming a Teapot Historian involved grad school and lots of job competition post-grad-school. Teapot Design, however was hot!

    I worked for a year and a half as an administrative assistant while trying to get into Teapot Design. My software skills were immediately applicable, but employers wanted to see some art background. I took ONE ART CLASS, put it on my resume and got hired.

    One of my employers in Teapot Design paid for me to go to art school and I now have a degree in commercial art and many years in the field.

  42. Mature Student*

    As a former radio producer at a national broadcaster (a highly “glamourous” position for many, considering the number of young women who had told me it was their dream job to work there) who went back to law school at the age of 31 and now working as a government lawyer, I would absolutely caution against transitioning from a boring but steady career to something that seems more fun and interesting unless you have a significant financial cushion. Glamourous/fun careers, by definition, are highly coveted and competitive. People spend years since college building internships, social media presence and work portfolio. Because of the competitiveness, they also tend not to paid well, because so many people want to do it anyway. If you want to start a family and are in your 30s, a steady job in accounting will provide a lot (at least in terms of comfort and options) in your life that many people in those glamourous/interesting job are secretly dying to have. Like many have said, cultivate hobbies and social activities outside of your work life. Work is just work – I find it a lot more liberating after I stopped looking for a sense of reward/gratification from work. I do my job, it pays my bills, and I can use that money to have a fun and interesting personal life.

    Not to mention health/dental insurance? hell yees.

    1. Podcaster*

      I second this. I started a podcast about creativity/arts/artists outside of work because I love the topic, but I can’t imagine swapping out my job for one in the arts. It is very fulfilling!

    2. Star Trek*

      TOTALLY this. I spent over 20 years running my own business in my “passion”. Having health insurance paid for, 401k (100% matching) and a steady paycheck? Priceless! :)

      1. Nicotene*

        I was JUST reading an article about how millennials are not “entrepreneurial” enough and I was like … do you know how DIFFICULT it is to pay for your own insurance, all the extra taxes, etc?? We have created a system that punishes people for doing this, even though in theory it can lead to job creation which everybody claims to support. Yeah no wonder younger folks are going to struggle at it.

    3. ArtsNerd*

      Enter thread, Ctrl+F “glamorous”… glad I’m not the first one to this.

      I’ve been thinking LONG and HARD about what my next step is, careerwise. It is probably not going to be in the arts. I’m a decade into my career and have stable employment as a senior staff member at a small but highly respected institution … it’s not a matter of being able to ‘hack it’. If I did similar work for a ‘boring’ for-profit company I would get paid handsomely for it with way fewer hours, much less stress, and significantly more resources at my disposal.

      That is, of course, if my band doesn’t make it big ;). Even people in creative fields need creative outlets that aren’t connected to their dayjob….

  43. Musical Chairs*

    I am only 30, but, so far, I’ve changed my career every few years because I have terrible indecision about this whole what-do-you-want-to-do-for-the-rest-of-your-days question. It has left me with a diverse and interesting resume with lots of transferable skills. I’ve always been in the nonprofit world, so it is the topic that changes for me, more so than the duties, but it is easy to burnout in the nonprofit sector. The understaffed and underpaid martyr thing isn’t doing this field any justice whatsoever. Combined with the fact that the work is draining emotionally.

    I love my current job (I am an Executive Director of a one-person nonprofit) and my current field (housing/community and economic development), but I do worry I won’t always have the energy.

  44. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I don’t have any advice to offer, but I wanted to thank everyone for their input. I’ve been mulling over a career change for some time; since my layoff, I’m even more interested. I used to love corporate talent acquisition, but it has lost its appeal after three decades.

    Not sure what my next calling will be, but I really appreciate the examples and advice I see here.

    1. beanie gee*

      I’m also grateful for this post and will be following it today. I’m 41 and have been in desk jobs for my career. I know I want a career change to something with more flexibility and fewer reports but I’m not sure what the next move is.

  45. anon kitty*

    My tip is to make sure you can articulate the transferable skills, with examples of the skills in your old context and examples of how you can apply them in your next context. Takes some planning, and some creative answers to behavioral questions (not creative as in false — but drawing connections). But with a little thought and planning, it make you seem very reflective and in control of your career trajectory (even if in reality it wasn’t that well thought out after all).

  46. JJ Bittenbinder*

    I’ve done this a few times. I’ve always said that I didn’t climb a career ladder so much as take a walk down a winding career path.

    I’d considered going to grad school for psychology right after college, but worked a few years in human services to see if it was a good fit. I really thought it was, so I went to grad school part-time at 27, got a Master’s degree while working those same human services jobs (think case manager/care coordinator-type roles) and then once I had the credentials, got a job with a mental health center as an LMHC (licensed mental health counselor). I loved it…until I didn’t. I don’t know if I would eventually have left the field anyhow, but the agency I worked for ended up earning a reputation for burning people out. Really high caseloads to maintain, tons of paperwork and administrative tasks and not much support. I was salaried full-time and expected to see 36 clients per week to maintain my FT status. Which means 4 hours per week for case notes, ancillary phone calls, insurance pre-authorization, supervision meetings, and the occasional continuing education work to maintain my license. If you’ve done the math along with me, you’ll understand that I was doing a ton of work at home, on the weekends, whenever I could. Plus I was on call 24/7. If I went on vacation, I either needed to carry my phone or get someone to cover. Thing is, everyone was so burnt out that no one wanted to cover another person’s caseload, even for a week.

    I felt very stuck, though. I thought that an MS in Psychology limited me to that same role anywhere and so my job searching was always going on interviews for similar roles in agencies that were, essentially, the devil I didn’t know.

    In what was a stressful turn of events at the time but turned out to be for the best, a family member got very ill and I ended up giving 6 weeks notice and moving halfway across the country. While my aunt never recovered, that kind of clean break forced me to level-set and suddenly I didn’t feel hamstrung by my degree and experience.

    From there I’ve kept moving and growing but, again, not in a linear fashion. I was working at a human services temp agency when I moved, because it had great flexibility and I could accept or decline shifts as needed. The agency ended up really liking me and hired me to work directly for them in placement. So I hired and trained other temps. That led to an interest in workforce/staffing but I wanted to be on the demand side and not the supply side. So I went to work in an organization doing workforce development and training in-house. As I moved along in my career, so did technology, so I had to learn new programs and systems for learning and training. Long story…well, still pretty long…I’m an instructional designer now.

    If you look back 22 years to when I got a masters in psychology, I absolutely still use it. Understanding how people learn and what motivates them and the neuroscience behind growth mindset vs. fixed mindset are definitely skills and concepts I apply to my work every day. But I’m far removed from the person who was drowning in paperwork and feeling really stuck.

    1. Jane Austin Texas*

      LOL, I joke that my “career path” is more like chasing after a shiny object.

      1. Jane Austin Texas*

        Hit enter too soon. Your path sounds a lot like mine. I have my education in 2ndary ed, and while I am not a teacher, I use my teaching skills DAILY. The public speaking practice and the patience to explain processes (sometimes repeatedly) are very transferable.

    2. Lluviata*

      JJ, what would you think about someone moving into psychology as a second career?

      My fiance has been working as an engineer in the chemical industry for the last 9 years. He’s always been interested in psychology, and has family in the field that he’s talked to. He’s considering getting a PsyD degree. As two engineers, we’re fortunate to be ok on the money side. What would you think about someone starting in their mid 30’s as a clinical psychologist?

    3. Once Anon a Time*

      JJ, thank you so much for sharing this. Your comment is EXACTLY why I came on this post. I am in the mental health field myself, but work more with residential housing for the mentally-ill. I am thinking of leaving the field because after 6 years, I am completely burned out and there are no opportunities for advancement. I am terrified that I will not be able to find another job outside of my company. And ironically, this field is not even what my college education was in. So I am thinking of going down a new path that deals with what my college major was. Thanks for showing me there is some hope for me!

  47. TomorrowTheWorld*

    Having left school when I was fifteen, I eventually fumbled my way into accounting at age 19 and just stayed there for a long time. One of my bosses mentioned that I wouldn’t be able to receive further promotions unless I at least earned an AA degree, so I finally went to college in my late-twenties. After a traumatic event, I switched from Finance degree to a dual science degree – Biochemistry and Cell & Molecular Biology – with the intent to be a lab person and maybe also public health education.
    Sadly, my health eventually became poor enough that I left a year out from finishing and went back to accounting work, mostly as a temp, still without a degree. I’m currently in a government job that is -not- accounting but it’s not too difficult to move around and I will likely take one of the exams next year (I’ve passed three of them but never passed the interviews, boo!).
    I will not be going for a degree in Finance, though. If I should ever return to college, it will be to take the science classes. Absolutely loved it.

  48. Teelo*

    I’m looking to move from pharma to public health & it’s kinda grim. Right out of college I tried to get an MPH in public health & was accepted to 4 good schools. But my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer right after I applied. My dad died suddenly 3 weeks after her diagnosis. I was able to defer admission for 1 year, but she outlived her initial prognosis and I was her main caregiver and wasn’t able to defer a second year. Packaged out of pharma in 2018 & finally found public health jobs recently, but I’ll be at the bottom of the ladder. I’ll be back to bare minimum vacation/sick time & the salary I made in CA in 2004 (if I’m lucky), but in Ohio so the value is even less.

    1. Job Carousel*

      I’m so sorry about your parents! That must be so hard, losing them both within a short time and having to change your career trajectory in the process. I wish you success in climbing the career ladder in public health — hopefully your transferable skills and experiences from your pharma days will help you move up more quickly than you think!

    2. blaise zamboni*

      I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through. I hope the rest of your career path is much smoother and very successful!

  49. Guacamole Bob*

    I bopped around a bit in my 20’s but never felt like I had a “career path”, then went back to grad school in a public policy field at 31 and have loved where I’ve ended up.

    I think it can help to go to grad school, if there are applied, hands-on programs in the field you want to switch into. I felt a little silly as a “summer intern” when I was in my early 30’s, but the experience of internships and research projects and the networking that you can get through that sort of activity can really help a hiring manager see how you could be a good fit for role in that industry and to understand that you’re committed to the industry and not just applying randomly. I think I was hired for my first job out of grad school on the basis of my master’s thesis topic, which meant I was deeply familiar with the kinds of data sets I was being hired to analyze.

    I was lucky that there was funding available for grad school and I had a spouse with stable employment, though.

    1. It's me*

      Guacamole Bob, I also returned to school to get a Master in Public Policy a bit later. I was lucky to get a good financing package from the school and had a spouse with stable employment when I was in school, as well. The program was life changing for me. I was a bit younger (27), but was very grouchy about doing an unpaid summer internship. For me, it turned into my full time job, so I regret being so grouchy. It all worked out for the best.

      Graduate school was helpful for me because my undergraduate program was very specific (dietetics), whereas the MPP set me up for a wider variety of jobs working on a wider variety of topics.

  50. Jane Austin Texas*

    Yes! I’ve changed directions several times.

    First, at age 23, when I left 2ndary education and went to be an admin assistant
    2nd at age 26, when I moved into HR
    Age 29, when I moved into business ops
    Age 36, when I moved into communications
    Age 39, back to ops.

    I tell people who are looking to change to talk about transferable skills, and expect to have to take a step back, but it absolutely can be done! I’m living proof!

    1. Amy*

      I’m in Communications now (7 years experience, currently Communications Coordinator in local government) but really would like to move into Operations (back in the private sector, preferably in an energy or green tech company or something environmentally focused). Any tips for certifications or areas of experience that would help? It’s tough being up against others who already work in Operations while I’m ‘bridging’ myself over.

      1. Jane Austin Texas*

        Totally hear you. I was fortunate enough to do this with the same company, so I already had a group of people who were familiar with my skillset and trusted me to do the work. It’s a huge help.

        I occasionally get interest from tech companies related to my PMP certification. And, I have a friend who went from being a freelance writer to what you’re describing after getting an Agile Scrum Master certification. I don’t know enough about tech to say definitively, but would recommend you ask people in tech what they find valuable.

        Good luck!!

  51. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    International corporate English teacher here (BA TESOL Education) who just got an MBA and is hoping to find a more corporate, structured position after 7 years teaching around the world. I’m in Germany (ex-pat) and I’m not sure at all now what to be looking for as I don’t have any dream industry. I just need more than what private language schools are offering. Perhaps teaching business English at a local uni, or even going in for some sort of junior financial training position and starting from the bottom up.

  52. JohannaCabal*

    To OP: It’s a different style of writing but there are some good scripted podcasts out there. Of course, Welcome to Night Vale and Lime Town come to mind. Different style of writing than TV but it may be a way to try something creative.

    In a way, I’ve changed careers quite a bit. I’m an editor who has always wanted to do something creative. I studied Journalism and then worked in public relations for a non-profit for three years. Like almost everyone in that field, I was laid off in 2009. Somehow I found my way to a market research company, which I planned to be a “stop-gap” job but lasted three years (in the end that was a good thing as I received a promotion). Then, I wound up as an editor for a non-profit publication.

    I used to feel bad that I hadn’t written a great novel by this time but when the pandemic hit, I realized it is okay that I’m only doing so as I near 40. I’ve had some interesting life experiences and met a lot of great people. I also found authors who started their fiction writing around my age and that has helped.

    Who knows where I’ll go but at this point I’m digging in with my creative projects. I may self-publish or seek a small publisher. I’m also planning to feature adventure-type stories with characters my age and older because it’s something I see little of.

    Good luck, OP!

    1. revueller*

      Thank you so, so much for sharing this. I’m feeling this guilt now in my 20s but I always remind myself that I still have time to do that. And hearing your path in the editing field is also greatly helpful. I’m looking for new jobs now, daunted by the competitive field, and wondering what other careers I can try with my skillset right now. Thank you agin!

  53. Math Teacher*

    I retired from a career as an engineer and became a middle school math teacher. My state has a career switcher program where you can get certified to be a teacher. You have to have a bachelors degree, 5 years of work experience, and pass an exam in the subject you want to teach. Then you take a semester of course work to get a provisional license and hopefully get a teaching contract. During your first year you do some additional course work and at the end you get your full license.
    It’s a lot more work for a lot less pay, but I’m enjoying it more than my whole 30 year engineering career.

    1. OtterB*

      Just for the balance, my husband is an engineer who had greatly enjoyed helping with tutoring and student enrichment programs and after yet another layoff 15 or so years ago decided to make the switch to high school science teaching. It … did not go well. My summary is that he’s a great chemistry teacher for people who want learn chemistry, but the rest of it – motivating, mentoring, engaging – is not really him. His summary is that he decided that both he and his students would be happier if he went back to being an engineer. So he did. And is back to greatly enjoying participating in community science/engineering demos, volunteering as a science fair judge, etc.

      So for others thinking about the engineering to teaching switch, think about your skills and interest in engaging with the students.

    2. Mimmy*

      I’m not in the same field but I am very heartened to know that it is possible to start a brand new career later in life, and into one that you love.

    3. Emily Elizabeth*

      One of my close family friends made the exact same switch! He was an engineer working for the state and grew to hate the government grind and feeling like he couldn’t make an impact. Decided to become a middle school math and science teacher at age 45 and has loved it. He definitely had a learning curve, especially in developing lesson plans, classroom management, and working within the school system, but he settled in within his second year and doesn’t regret it at all. Gets to use his love for math and spend a lot more time with his kids; part of the decision for them was the hit in salary was slightly balanced by not having to pay for after-school and school break childcare anymore.

    4. The New Wanderer*

      I strongly considered this after getting laid off from an engineering job (same kind of teaching option you describe). It didn’t work out for other reasons, and I honestly don’t know if I would have been more like Math Teacher or OtterB’s husband in terms of fit.

      The reason I considered it at all, though, was it turns out that while I loved my job working in one industry, I could not drum up any enthusiasm for the naturally-adjacent fields (same skills, different focus) that people usually transition to out of my industry. I could only really get excited about types of work that were almost completely different like technical or academic writing, or teaching. As it happens, I went back to being an engineer in my preferred industry which is the best of all my options.

  54. Math -> Legal*

    Not me but my dad’s an example of this kinda career switch. He went to college and got a degree in math. Dad spent about 10 years working with Computers in the 70s after graduation. He decided to go to law school. When you think of majors who go to law school, it’s usually like political science or English but he always said his math background was a huge asset. He found he was better at thinking questions through logically than some of his peers because of th mathematical methodology. Dad worked as a lawyer from then until he retired a few years ago.

  55. Stacy*

    I have a degree in Health and Wellness, a Masters of Ed with a concentration in early childhood development and have worked with children with disabilities for 11 years now. I’m starting to feel burnt out so I’m going back to school part-time to become a Registered Dietitian with a speciality in pediatric nutrition. I think it’s a great blend of my education, experience and geographical location. The university I’m attending partners with our local pediatric hospital (one of the best in the country) for dietitian clinical internships.

  56. ask a magnus archives*

    i’ve been thinking about trying this for a couple years now so i’m excited to go through the comments – would love to hear from folks who moved from issue advocacy or political work into other fields!

    1. menthaspicata*

      I did the reverse, actually – moved from government consulting (implementing the current laws/regulations) to advocacy (trying to change the laws/regulations). But I know several people who went the other way and the transition was pretty seamless.

  57. Career#3*

    I’m on my third career. I was a wet (in the lab) bench chemist, then banking, and then I went back to graduate school at 30, and now I work for the government and design electrical engineering experiments. I actually don’t necessarily recommend my second path change to others. I was driven by a recession and management trying to shove me out of finance into HR (yay sexism!) to change directions, and then had some extraordinary luck to be in the right place when my current role needed someone.

  58. Mbarr*

    Sometimes I look at courses/diplomas available at nearby colleges… And realize I’m a fundamentally lazy person who doesn’t want to study anymore. Plus, when everything sounds intriguing, nothing stands out.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I’ve reached a point where I will not go back to school for a degree program no matter what. Financially, it makes NO sense, and it takes time away from things I really want to be doing.

      I have no objection to taking a skills-focused class here or there, however. If there’s something I want to do and it requires that I know X, there’s usually a course for that.

      1. irritable vowel*

        Same – sometimes I tell people I would love to wake up one morning with a law degree, but I just can’t stomach the thought of going back to school at this point. I went to library school right after undergrad, got a second master’s in my late 20s, and I am DONE. Do I wish I had gone to law school? Yes, sometimes. But I have made my peace with the fact that practicing law is not going to be part of my life’s path (just like living in New York City, my dream for most of my 20s, is not going to happen). Maybe in an alternate universe? But I do occasionally take one-off classes that I think could be helpful.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          The only thing I regret is not finishing a Masters (in education); I could have gone into corporate training. But it was so geared toward elementary ed that I had to carve out what I wanted, and it was making my brain hurt.

      2. The New Wanderer*

        I wouldn’t get another degree at this point myself, but I’ve done two certificate programs online to shore up some skills. I was surprised how interesting they were and how much I wanted to do well. Self-paced and no real financial commitment was a big selling point, and both have turned out to be really useful to me.

  59. Radical Indifference*

    I have spent my career as a software developer. At the age of 50 I returned to education and have just completed my Masters degree in history of art and have just been accepted onto a PhD program. I have no regrets. Art history / museums jobs are are scarce even in the best economic times, and are considered extremely ageist but I don’t care. I’d rather do what I want to do rather than keep doing the same thing that brings me no joy at all. If I can’t get a job in a museum after I finish my PhD I’ll start my own business. Now more than ever I’ve realised that this is my life. I don’t get a do-over. So I’m doing it all right now.

  60. snuggly doob*

    At the end of 2008, I was 33 and found myself laid off after spending ten years in HR, a practice area that I came to loathe. After a full year of unemployment and dreading the thought of returning to HR, I applied to and was accepted into an MLIS program. I had literally never given any thought to library and information science, but one day I was searching for jobs and came across a posting for a corporate (special) librarian position, which is something I’d never heard of until that moment. I started the program with the support of my then-partner and was able to work part-time to gain experience in the field. I graduated in 2013 and I am now at the vp level in a special library. I had to rebuild with much lower salaries that I had before (75% less at one point) and I realize I was in a privileged position that my then-partner was able to support me through the early years, then that relationship ended and it was a bit of a struggle but I have advanced considerably and as comfortable as one can be given the new strange we live in now. I absolutely love what I do and feel that this was the best decision I could have made.

  61. Everything’s fine*

    Great topic! Here’s me—
    21-30: Marketing and PR
    30-34: Freelance writer, mostly for high tech companies. Didn’t require extra education, allowed me to work PT (started 2 months after first kid was born)
    34-48: HS English teacher. Had to go back to school to get credential (pro tip, a lot of private schools will let you teach while getting credential)
    48-now (49): Nonprofit marketing. Expecting lay-off or salary reduction soon.

    These all used similar skills, so the transition was a bit easier. I’d recommend adjacent fields if you need to transition quickly.

    I’d love my next adventure to be public health, but not sure if the $$ to get the MPH is worth it or realistic right now!

    1. Filosofickle*

      There are jobs that line up with your skill set working in the public health department without getting an MPH — communications, user research, program design, community outreach/education. I know a couple of people who have worked for San Francisco DPH who come from marketing/creative backgrounds. It could give you an opportunity to work towards this purpose with your existing skills and offer you a bridge towards that MPH if you decide to go there. Good luck! :)

  62. Ellis*

    I have changed careers several times, and am a little shocked to think of 29 as mid-life, but:
    -I was an adult ed teacher right out of college, shifted to being a research assistant. Age: 23 How: Entry-level job in the new career, hiring manager was a friend of a friend.
    -Shifted back to working in education, K-12 this time. Age: 24 How: Again, started with entry-level (paraprofessional) jobs, then got additional education to start teaching. It was easier because I had experience working with kids in different settings and teaching adult ed.
    -Shifted to working in journalism. Age: 28 How: Started as a temp, waited until they noticed I was smart and capable, applied for a permanent job as a copy editor, changed jobs a couple of times to get to do a little production work and a lot of reporting and editing. This shift was easier because I had a boss who was smart at hiring and liked to look for talented people rather than people who looked good on paper.
    -Shifted to working in higher ed. Age: 36. How: I worked in the marketing and communications office; jumping from journalism to PR or marketing is very, very common, with very transferable skills.
    -Shifted to working as a marriage and family therapist. Age: 46 How: I had a flexible enough higher ed job that I was able to go back to school while still working and got my MA. Therapist jobs were easy to find when I graduated (two years ago), especially if you are willing to work for very low pay. In this field, I also think age is a bonus; people are comfortable sharing with people who have some life experience and remind them of some kindly middle-aged lady they know or knew (parent, teacher, mother, whatever).

    1. MayLou*

      Ha! Yes, I’m 29 and not only do I not feel mid-life, I feel like my career is only just starting too. I’ve finally held the same job for more than a year for the first time in my life. Lots of career switches in my past! And lots of part time and self-employed work. My colleagues have commented that they can’t keep track of all the things I’ve done. Somehow they all seemed to lead to my current job, completely by chance.

  63. vampire physicist*

    I went from tech into medical physics by going back to school in my late 20s, although I did have the groundwork (a bachelor’s in physics) and I don’t have kids, which definitely does complicate OP’s situation.
    In summary, the advice I either used or learned would be:
    1. Learn how people get into this field. Sometimes it’s something very obvious (in my case, grad school is required). Sometimes it’s more nebulous and there are multiple paths. Take note of what these paths are – for example, I would guess that most TV writers who weren’t hired right out of college probably had some kind of day job that allowed enough time to work on writing, and might have done some freelance work or spec scripts to build up a portfolio.
    2. Ensure you have a means of support or are able to take on debt if this requires full-time education or unemployment. It might be that you can’t, and that’s okay. You can decide to either try to make it possible (eg: saving up enough to be unemployed for enough time to focus on this), defer until certain financial commitments are lessened, or ultimately decide this makes more sense as a hobby.
    3. Don’t focus on your age – you’re going to turn 30 or 40 or 50 whether you’re pursuing what you want or not. Definitely consider your age and circumstances, but don’t get hung up on the number itself. I have a number of friends who went to med school after a few years of working, and they’ve all said that being a medical intern in your 30s is preferable to being an office worker dreaming of becoming a doctor in your 30s.
    4. Keep in mind there’s probably a lot of options in between your current job and your dream job, especially if your dream job is notoriously hard to get into, like writing or acting. Ask yourself if you genuinely want to go and pursue the absolute dream, whatever it takes, or if you want to make a smaller but still significant change that might make you much happier even if it’s not perfect. Basically, don’t get stuck in something that makes you miserable because the only other option you can see is too much of a risk.

  64. Brett*

    First career change was not really a career change, just a late start.
    I worked fast food and temp work until I was 30. I got caught in a snafu where the state of california sold off student loans while I was out of school for 9 months and my new creditor defaulted me immediately. 13 years later, I saved up a small cushion, went back to school and switched majors to geography as it was something i could finish quickly with the credits I had. I ended up doing grad school as well, ultimately landing in public sector GIS (focused on public safety).
    8 years after that, partly with the help of AAM, I realized how crappy my employer was and looked for a change. A similar position in agriculture landed in my lap that used both my geography education and skills I had acquired in software development along the way. So I shifted from public safety to private sector agriculture. I had to learn a ton of new norms, but my transferable skills worked out very well and I have been there ever since (at now double my final pay in the public sector).

  65. Former Fed*

    U.S. Diplomat (Foreign Service Officer) –> Banking Compliance with a focus on sanctions and embargoes! I did this via an MBA. There’s a natural link between knowing how the U.S. government makes policy to how organizations can comply with policy. Lots of soft skills transferred as well, such how to navigate huge bureaucracies.

    1. schmacademia*

      I was always interested in working in Foreign Service. When I was living abroad I met with the local U.S. Ambassador to pick their brain about what their career had been like so far; however, I left far more intrigued by the work of the ambassador’s administrative assistant. She, too, was assigned to rotating posts so still got to experience the world, but her duties were more in the wheelhouse of what I found enjoyable: organization, communication, planning, coordinating, etc. There is a training program for said assistants, but I never followed up on it and now it seems like it would be at odds with my current life.

  66. Pam*

    I had two mid-life career changes- or actually, one choice that led to a different career than I thought. After a bunch of floating career options, including management at McDonald’s, I returned to school for a bachelor’s. (I had dropped out as a freshman) Since this was the mid-1990s, I chose the computer field.

    I was able to be a full-time student, and participated actively on campus, joining clubs, working for the Women’s Center, and becoming a peer advisor in my major. 20 years later, I have never worked in the computer industry, but have found my niche as an academic advisor.

  67. Ginger Peachy*

    I started out with a BBA and worked in the insurance industry for a few years, learning early on that it wasn’t for me. I went back to school, earned an MA in Blind Rehabilitation and loved working with people with visual impairments for 25 years. It’s a lot of one-on-one teaching, it pays well, schedules can be flexible, and it felt really good to watch people learning the skills they needed to take control of their lives again. Now I’m burned out and thinking of heading back to school for a 3rd, completely unrelated career. I’ve got about 12 years before I plan to retire and I want to spend them doing something I’m passionate about.

    1. Mimmy*

      Hello! I work with blind and visually impaired adults too – I teach keyboarding and while I’m burned out on the job itself, I too love seeing the growth in my students. Before the pandemic, I had a set work schedule because I work in a training center where the students receive intensive blindness skills training for up to 16 weeks.

  68. Mid 30s, currently attempting a career change*

    I am a meeting planner for conventions and I decided to switch careers last year. Dropped down to part-time and started taking classes at a local community college towards pre-reqs to apply for a Masters program in Occupational Therapy. Luckily I had to take both psychology and science classes, I really did not enjoy the science classes and LOVED the psychology classes. I’m now considering getting a Masters in school counseling or social work instead. My advice for those attempting a career change, especially one that will require quite a bit of schooling, time, and money – start slowly. Dip your toes in by taking a class at community college at night related to the field you want to change into. You might discover it’s actually not for you but you might discover something else about yourself that you enjoy. I do feel pressure because I’ll probably be 40 by the time I’m out of school, but part of the career change is not about the end game of a dream career itself – it’s about the personal growth too.

    1. Cafe Chortler*

      Social work is a great field for many reasons, not least of which is that there isn’t really a general age for students! From my experience I don’t think 40 would be on the older side for grads at all.

    2. Emily Elizabeth*

      I’ve been considering OT for a while but have that exact concern about the science classes! I have all the experience and passion for the soft skills side of it, but wimped out of taking Anatomy in undergrad and never went back.

    3. Sarah*

      Wow, you sound exactly like me, including the ages. I am a meeting planner as well but am not finding it as fulfilling as I once did and am longing for a career change. I’ve long thought of following my heart to social work and/or counseling, and this is great advice. And to know someone who is doing it gives me hope, and belief, that I can too.

  69. Wandering Chemist*

    I spent 17 years as a forensic scientist working under the combination of a huge unrelenting workload, corrosive institutional environment, no advancement opportunities, and being moved professionally farther away from what I really wanted to do. The last straw was the death of a close family member, when I realized life was too short to be so miserable.

    I went back to school, got my PhD in chemistry at the age of 40 and decided to become a professor, thinking I had a good mix of pedagogy and practical experience. I was invited to three interviews in quick succession and came in second in all three.

    Demoralized, I told my husband I wanted to move back to our home state and he agreed. I now work as a government contractor and am making more than I did as a forensic scientist. I had big dreams for myself and I’m grappling with the realization that I’m not going to set the world on fire, but I still love chemistry and the work I’m doing is interesting. It’s nice to have a job where the only thing I bring home is journal articles because I want to read them and nobody texts or calls me in my off hours. Now in my spare time I’m learning to code. I don’t see myself ever switching to data science but it’s a good skill to have.

  70. Machiamellie*

    I was in general administration for a couple of years out of college (got my BA at 25), then moved into HR/recruiting and was in that field for about 12 years. I tried to get out of it for several years because I’m not good with the peopling, and was finally able to break into data/billing analysis for an HR/benefits outsourcing company 3 years ago.

    So the company is in the same industry but I was able to switch from people-focused to data-focused. In my case it helped that I’m autistic and I talked that up in the interview, focusing on how detail-oriented it makes me and how I love to dive into numbers and analysis. I don’t know if that would have worked at any other company, but at mine it worked like a charm and I’ve been happy as a clam ever since. They were even paying for me to get my master’s in Business Analytics before COVID hit.

  71. TiffIf*

    This is not me, but my parents.
    My dad has a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering and had worked for more than a decade in manufacturing. However, in the late 80’s when he was laid off, he decided to go back to school (in his 40s) to become a computer programmer. He worked as a computer programmer (I know he used cobol, not sure what other languages he programmed in) for something like 15-20 years until a bank merger made his job redundant. No one wanted to hire a 60+ year old programmer using old languages so he transitioned to teaching at a vocational school which he really loved doing (he LOVES teaching) until the school closed. He’s now 77 and retired.

    My mother was in the Navy and has a Bachelor’s of General Studies (I think) but was mostly a stay at home mom when I was young. When I was in late elementary school she started working at my school as a lunch lady (actually a really good job for a parent with kids at home–you’re done by the time they get off and only work during the school year). By the time I was in high school she was self-employed as a cleaner–she has a lot of clients whose houses she cleans she still does this 20 years later (though that’s on hold right now obviously) but has also for the last ten years or so worked in the school system in a grant program assisting students with understanding college applications and financial aid options.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Sounds a lot like my relatives’ stories:

      Husband 1 – military for 15 years, computer programmer at Huge Company for 15 years, finished out his career as an independent consultant in computer services/IT for small businesses.
      Wife 1 – ran her own service-based business for 15 years, then was a personnel/HR manager at an insurance company until she retired after 20 or so years.

      Husband 2 – military for almost 20 years, entertainment industry job for about 10 years, university admin job until he retired.
      Wife 2 – series of related jobs in the medical field, alternating with grad programs for new qualifications for the next new job, and just retired

  72. HR in the city*

    I have been reading through the comments and am inspired that I might be able to find the right fit as far as my career. I have a BS in Business Administration and an MS in Accounting. My plan was to be a CPA. Well in Montana to be a CPA in addition to the degree, test, you also need to have a year of auditing and accounting before you take the test. There is a committee in the state that determines if your experience qualifies. Depending on what your experience is will determine exactly how much experience you need. I spoke with someone on the committee and he told me that all my experience up to that point wouldn’t count towards the requirement. Honestly, I was defeated at the time (this was back in 2013) because I was starting from the beginning in my 30s. It also appears that it is easier to be a CPA in a lot of other states so not all CPAs are created equal. Well in 2016 I took a job in HR and I am actually using my accounting degree managing budgets, A/P, A/R, assisting with payroll, and other projects requiring a high degree of accuracy and organizing. But I still get comments about why I am not using my degree. I recently got payroll certified so I am hoping that with that I can finally move into an accounting position that will allow me to use my degree.

  73. Kyle*

    Definitely not mid life, but I worked in a field related to my college major for 1 year, realized it was not for me, went to grad school for a different field, and started working in that field at age 25. I still sometimes feel a bit old for my new (young people dominated) field, so looking forward to reading this! I am very happy I did this, I like my new field and think I have better career prospects because its more unique and my skills are more specialized, but I do wish I had thought to do this in college. Although it really wasn’t on my radar then somehow.

  74. Deliliah*

    I’ve had a billion different jobs in my life. I have a degree in journalism and spent a year doing that professionally before realizing I was not cut out for it. I worked retail for a while. Then I did closed captioning, which I would have loved to make a career of, but it’s very quickly being taken over by computers and centralized captioning houses (the main one being in a city that I really don’t want to live in). I stumbled into an entry-level project management job about 4.5 years ago at age 34 and have been promoted twice. I seem to be quite well suited to it, so I may actually be starting one of those career things I’ve heard people talk about!

  75. Practicalities*

    I’m an oil and gas geologist and I went back to school to be an accountant at 40 after oil prices took a nosedive. (My husband is a tradesman and his industry also declined considerably, so we moved cross-country to find him more work while I’ve been in school.)

    I’m in Canada and there’s an accelerated pathway through the CPA association here, so I didn’t have to go back to university. I’m just in the process of applying for jobs now, so I’m not sure yet whether I actually should’ve started over completely in a university program that has a co-op (internship) component in order to get some direct experience, but I’m hoping my analytical background will help launch me.

    For those thinking about going into a profession and already have a degree in something else — see if there’s an accelerated path that you could take. I tripped across an article the other day that mentioned accelerated nursing programs in several universities in Canada.

    I loved my job as a geologist — there are still days where I think “WTF have I done?!”, but then I hear of another layoff back in my old city and am thankful my family got out when we did. And I’m happy that I picked accounting — I was surprised to find that the mindset for the work is very similar to that of geologists.

    1. Nicotene*

      Honestly, might be an unpopular opinion, but for me the most important consideration of a mid-career switch is NOT having to go back to school – I would not go back into debt for anything, and it would completely wipe out any financial gains I might have made. And I just don’t have the enthusiasm for classroom work now that I’ve been working for a decade. I might do some one course or a certificate program, but if a new career needs a different degree, it’s not for me.

  76. Philly Redhead*

    My husband changed careers in his late 30s. He has a B.A. in psychology, was working in a small private school for children with severe autism, and was becoming burned out. He was doing three jobs at the school (he was secondary school principal, a 1-to-1 teacher, AND the IT support), plus making a crappy salary. He left, and was able to leverage his experience doing IT support at the school (which almost all self-taught) into a full-time job without having to go back to school.

  77. GreyjoyGardens*

    I’ve been reading through all the comments and this is really interesting to me (especially the poster in their 50’s who found a second, great career in real estate). What do you think makes the difference between “I changed careers, it’s easy, it’s fun, and I’m fulfilled!” and “I’m trying to change careers but it’s a struggle and a slog?” Dumb luck? Geography? Skills? Being *too* old as opposed to “just” older – 29 might be “old” in Hollywood dog years, but it’s hardly old in “ordinary job” years.

    1. Manana*

      In my career-change experience it’s been both: it’s a struggle, there’s a lot of slogging, but it’s also been incredibly fun and rewarding (but not monetarily). I think it has to do with why folks want to change careers, what they hope for, what they expect, how they personally measure success. I also think many people change careers based on what jobs are “in demand” and not based on their strengths/interests. I think it’s also easy to take for granted all the things that make up a job (commute, office culture, hours, industry culture, etc) beyond the actual work tasks.

      1. Nicotene*

        I agree, I suspect the more you can narrow it down what elements of your current career that aren’t working for you, and can accurately identify specifics that would make you happier (harder than it sounds!!) the better your odds. But as a species we’re usually not great at predicting what will make us happier.

    2. MissGirl*

      I think part of it is not giving a lot of thought to a career change and just jumping in because they’re unfulfilled in their current job.

      I changed jobs because I worked in a passion industry with lots of people who want to break in so salaries are low and promotions scarce. I decided to change careers into my other passion industry but after lots of research I realized it had the exact same problems. I pivoted into something less passion driven but more sustainable. I’ve since developed more passion for my current role.

  78. RedinSC*

    I am not really interesting or glamorous, because work really is work. But I left a software tech training career to do non profit fund raising. What I get from work is a complete sense of satisfaction that was missing in the tech training world. I know that the work I am doing is directly benefitting the most vulnerable in my community. The transition was difficult, it involved a pay cut and starting in an beginner position when I was in my late 30s, but has been really worth it. So I’d say if you want to make that career change, make sure you’re not tied into maintaining the same salary level and job title. If you have to learn something new, you have to put the time into learning. Good luck!

    1. Nicotene*

      And at least, out of all the roles in nonprofit, fundraising is probably the most in-demand and highest paid!! I’ve done programmatic nonprofit work for years and although it’s SO meaningful, the pay and advancement options can be really tough.

  79. Dumpster Fire*

    Spent my twenties in college (BS and PhD in engineering), my thirties as a software consultant; and became a high school math teacher at the age of 39. When I first started teaching, my salary was about a quarter of what I had made the previous year, but after almost two decades, I’m doing OK (and my life is immeasurably better, our current distance-learning situation notwithstanding.) I get my geeky tech fix by making websites for school and being one of the on-site tech experts who can handle most issues. And…summer :-)

  80. Put the Human Back in Human Resources*

    I’ve wanted to be a writer my entire life. From my teens to mid-twenties, I worked as a garbage collector, custodian, nursing assistant in a nursing home, and keyboarding for the army (still remember typing those boring gunnery tables) on Ft Knox. I kept writing in my spare time. At age 26, I had to take a software class for work. I thought, this is fun. I went back to school full-time and worked nights and weekends at a gas station. Just before graduation, I saw a posting in the university career counseling office for an HR generalist, applied, and got the job. I’ve progressed in my career in HR. I continued to write as a hobby. Four years ago, I did get a publishing contract under my pen name. I didn’t quit my day job, thankfully, because I sure didn’t rocket into the Nora Roberts sphere of millions of copies sold. I see new writers in online groups who announce they’ve quit their boring jobs and they’re writing a book to finance their retirement. All I can do is wish them luck. I still write as a hobby and self-publish my romantic suspense books. Someday I’ll retire and write full-time, hopefully living on those retirement savings from my day jobs.

    1. JohannaCabal*

      I’ve heard similar things from other writers but I personally find that I need the 9-5 job to fuel my writing. Not that I use it as inspiration, it energizes me. I’ve tried to write during periods of unemployment and it just wasn’t happening. Something about work inspires me, I guess, or gives me the push to write.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        It’s the grain of sand in the oyster shell that helps create a pearl.

        No grit, no pearl.

    2. BookNerd*

      Another writer here, doing it about 50% of the time at this point and feeling amazingly fortunate to be able to do even that. It’s a tough way to make a living even if you *are* one of the astonishingly small percent who (as I was lucky enough to do) actually get the agent / publishing contact / semi-decent sales. Even pretty big name authors probably aren’t making *that much money* on books alone. It’s something like acting, where there is an A-list of really big names making it, but you can count them on your fingers. I feel bad for all the eager writers I meet now and I try to really gently give them some facts about the industry and the business of publishing, without discouraging their creativity and enthusiasm.

    3. MissGirl*

      I think part of it is not giving a lot of thought to a career change and just jumping in because they’re unfulfilled in their current job.

      I changed jobs because I worked in a passion industry with lots of people who want to break in so salaries are low and promotions scarce. I decided to change careers into my other passion industry but after lots of research I realized it had the exact same problems. I pivoted into something less passion driven but more sustainable. I’ve since developed more passion for my current role.

  81. QCI*

    Some of us don’t really get a choice in the matter. I went from Factory worker to emergency cleaning and restoration back to factory and now quality control. All out of necessity. I’d like to go into maintenance.

  82. Existentialista*

    My first career was in Academia. I went straight through to get my degrees – BA, MA, PhD, all in Philosophy – so by the time I graduated I had basically been in school continuously from age 5 to age 29. I was fortunate to get a job teaching at a university, but after four years and zero publications I realized I was better suited to be a student than a teacher. At the same time, a relationship took me to a new city, so I took a leave of absence and decided to purse a career in web design and Digital Marketing.

    Based on my academic journey, I just assumed I’d have to spend four years getting another degree, but it turns out I got a job very quickly, and because of my past experience and that fact that I was 10 years older than everyone I worked with, I moved into client Account Management and strategy where I’ve stayed now for more than 20 years. Academics often think that we have no transferrable skills, but I have used my research, communication, critical thinking and analytic skills every day in my new career, and it is fast-changing enough that the student in me has stayed challenged and happy!

    1. Nicotene*

      You really do have to be so careful in academia, there’s kind of an echo chamber there were “the thing to do” is obviously to keep pursing more and more academic degrees and outside of academia you often do not need formal schooling to make changes! And the career path within academia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be these days. But if you’re only surrounded by professors and university staff, you don’t ever hear the other side!

  83. J*

    Mine is more of a pivot than a drastic change. I spent 20 years doing PR/Communications for various nonprofits and was completely burnt out on mission-based worked, and really communications/pr in general. In one previous job, I had some responsibilities that included working on a peer-reviewed scientific journal. I contacted my boss in that role, and she encouraged me to apply to managing editor roles for scientific journals. I followed her advice, and started a new job in December. I LOVE it. The work is flexible, uses almost all of my weird skillsets, it’s a stable industry, and I no longer live and die by the organization’s fundraising efforts. The hardest adjustment has been billing accurately for my time, since my years in the nonprofit world made me very conscious of budgets and not wanting to over-charge for things. I’ve had to adjust my mindset to make sure I am getting paid what I am worth.

    1. Ama*

      This is interesting to me because one of my first bosses in the nonprofit world went exactly the opposite path (from editor to nonprofit, although she went into grant administration).

      Can I ask, do you have a science educational background? I would love to move into a managing editor type role (I’ve been in grant administration for 7 years but my educational background is in writing and editing, and until recently I ran my org’s magazine) but I always assumed my lack of a science degree would work against me despite my experience with the scientific research process.

  84. greentea2*

    I went from English major > (IT training) > IT career > (tech writing training) > tech writer. In terms of pay and stability, being a tech writer has been a good career. Like others have pointed out above, this worked well because I was able to use transferrable skills and basically combined two careers. Combining tech skills with a non-tech skillset tends to be valuable. (My company has searched high and low for another writer with a tech background for a couple years.) I have to say that I don’t love tech writing, mostly because I’m pretty burnt out on tech, but some people do love this field.

    Because of burnout, I’m currently a researching a transition to grant writing. I’m in my mid-40s and am feeling so very tired of working in general. I don’t really know whether this is normal for this age, or whether this is part of tech burnout. But really, I just want to go live in a tree hollow in the woods like a squirrel and live off of nuts and rain drops. Probably won’t include that in my next cover letter.

    1. Unmotivated*

      The part about living in a tree hollow cracked me up. So relatable. I’m only 30, and feel a little embarrassed thinking, “Ugh! Can I retire yet?!”

  85. Seal*

    I worked as a library paraprofessional for almost 20 years before I went to library school and became an academic librarian in my early 40s. From my perspective, this was a natural progression; after so many years of library work, it was obvious to me that the only way to move up was to get an MLIS. Once I started taking classes and especially when I graduated, I was astonished by the number of librarians – especially those with many years in the profession – that insisted that I was changing careers. They made it very clear that as far as librarianship was concerned, paraprofessional experience did not and should not count. Never mind that library paraprofessionals actually worked in libraries and did many of the same things librarians did and more, or that I learned more about librarianship as a paraprofessional than I ever did in library school. In their mind, paraprofessional work absolutely did. not. count. and I had no business insisting it did. Now as a library administrator, I still don’t understand this mentality. Over the course of 30+ years of working in academic libraries I have had a wide range of duties and responsibilities, all of which have made me an effective paraprofessional, librarian, and administrator. My career is the sum of my experiences, not just having an expensive piece of paper.

    1. Jester*

      Honestly, that mentality surprises me. I just posted below about my switch from web designer to a librarian. Obviously, my design experience is not related to librarianship, but my library was eager to have those skills. I would’ve thought it would be the same for experience in a library. I’m one class away from finishing my degree. Are you hiring? haha!

      1. Seal*

        Web design was one of the skills I acquired before I went to library school. In fact, redesigning the library website was one of the last major projects I did as a paraprofessional. Based on the number of mediocre to just plain bad library websites I’ve seen, libraries are desperate for people with good web design skills!

    2. button*

      Wow, that’s so terrible. I’m an academic librarian and while X years as a paraprofessional would not necessarily be considered “equivalent” to X years as a librarian–it is absolutely relevant experience!! Especially considering how many new grads come out of school with minimal work experience. I can tell you I learned more in my internship than any of my classrooms, and that would go double for actual long-term library work.

  86. Green Goose*

    I spent my post-college twenties abroad, I was traveling, studying and teaching English for about six years before returning to the states. I applied for my first full-time U.S. position when I was twenty-nine and after months and months of looking and applying I ended up taking a pretty entry-level role at a non-profit.

    My boss and the department head were the same age as me (both with years in the industry under their belt), and the other entry-level workers were about 3-6 years younger than me but it ended up not being that weird. And I made some really good friends that year even though most of them were younger. Through sticking through some annoying stuff at work, enjoying work that most people don’t, and some genuine luck I was promoted twice in about 3.5 years and I now run the department.

    I’m happy that I chose a nonprofit, because I’d been originally looking at universities and based on people in my network, it seems a lot harder to move up there in the first 5-10 years and surprisingly the pay is better at my nonprofit than the local colleges/universities.

    OP, good luck on your career change!

  87. PM to EA?*

    Yes, thank you for this post! I am a Project Engineer and have been fantasizing about becoming an Executive Assistant for a year now.
    I really just could not care less about cost estimating, and feel really unfulfilled having a job where I don’t make anyone’s life better or serve others.
    All the reasons I make a good PM, I think apply to EA: ruthlessly organized, know when a meeting can be an email, good at helping people communicate with each other.
    But I’m terrified by how dependent an EA’s success and happiness is on having a good boss. And I worry that after a while it will feel like I lack variety. But, I gotta tell you, I would get so much internal satisfaction of being ready with a file someone asked for before they ask for it. I really feel like I could be ‘excellent’ at my job, where in project management I feel like I mostly just get by.

    1. PM to EA?*

      I’m also concerned that I won’t be able to “get back” to a technical field if I decide that’s what I want more. I feel like I’m at a crossroads where I could either go technical individual contributor, or give up engineering all together, but it’ll be “too late” after this next job (7 years in). I practically killed myself to get through engineering school, and I guess I have remorse about giving that up.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I could have written something similar 7 years into my career, but your post also makes me sad! I am a 20 year engineer/PM/misc, but I made some changes around your stage, too.
        – 8 years ME (technically 5 ME/1 project controls analyst, 2 ME)
        – 6 years market analyst
        – 6 year PM

        I did not like my first job or company. I changed companies to do project controls, and I thought it would be nice from what I saw the PCAs doing, but I didn’t feel like my role mattered, so I moved back to engineering. Still didn’t like it, so I took a new role as a market analyst (same company). Again, didn’t feel like my job mattered. I figured it was either resign myself to never doing engineering again or going back to it then after 6 years, so I talked my way into a project manager role, and I have liked most of it. This role was the first time I quit actively thinking about major career changes (med school, PhD, solo consultant, etc.). I still think about things like retiring after 30 years and becoming a writer or something, but I’m happy to keep doing what I’m doing or moving up/around in this general area. I don’t manage the same types of projects that I did engineering on for the first 8 years, so that is a lot of what has made the difference for me.

        Many people leave engineering and never look back, but if you’re on the fence, I would also be concerned if you move to an EA role and wanted to go back. It can be done, but for me, I think I made it back because all those jobs were with the same company, and I had a good reputation and strong advocates.

        Sounds like the concerns are just getting by and not feeling like you’re serving others. I think the first part could be just lack of confidence with your role. Seven years is not brand new, but I do have a lot more confidence at 20 years than 7 years. I understand not feeling like you’re helping people, but for me, I ended up feeling worse in that way as I moved away from engineering. You’ve got specific, rare (in the wild) skills, and not using them feels strange. You may not feel that way. I know an architect who detoured to raise kids and is now a project admin, and she’s great at it and happy, but I just wanted to share what I experienced from all sides of something similar.

        1. PM to EA?*

          Thank you, this is really helpful.
          I guess its less that I want to ‘help people’ and more that I want my work to matter. I was an EMT to put myself through engineering school, and there aren’t many careers out there that rank higher in instant gratification than that.

          Then my first engineering job was a manufacturing supervisor. The place was a toxic dumpster fire and everyone was mean to each other and I cried a lot. But weirdly, I had a lot of job satisfaction. I really felt like I was good at my job – that my skill set aligned with the work – and I felt like what I did on a daily basis mattered. That was in food & beverage.
          Then I pretty much solved all the problems that could come up and started to long for more technical/challenging problems. I also got frustrated of living in processes that were inefficient and having no way to improve them (I double majored in ME and IE) so I thought Project would be fulfilling. So 3 years ago I moved to aerospace, thinking it would be *the most* challenging option and I could never possibly get bored.

          Since moving to aerospace I have just never had any job satisfaction. The ‘sense of urgency’ I used to get praised for in food & beverage is now seen as being ‘too intense’ or ‘taking unnecessary risk’. The part I managed the design of 3 years ago still hasn’t flown in an engine. Its just really slow moving. The problem is, literally my entire state’s industry is aerospace. There are no other engineering jobs in the state. And we can’t move for another few years (when school loans are paid down) because my husband’s job is irreplaceable income-wise.

          I thought about going back to being a supervisor but I don’t want to move up in that career track – to ‘succeed’ and become an operations manager who is glued to work 24/7 is hardly a reward in my eyes.

          I think part of my nerves are that, on paper, Project Management suits me so well. I love being organized. I love communication. But trying to get other engineers to stick to deadlines and impossible budgets just absolutely exhausts me – I dread every single ‘we need to stick to the plan’ meeting. And if I don’t ever have to build another ROI package in my life, it’ll be too soon.
          It’s not necessarily that I feel *bad* at it, its that I don’t really care to put in the effort to be excellent. Every hour drags by. Where in my other jobs, I could work a 12 hour day and not even notice because I was passionate about the work.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Thanks for adding all the detail. Now I really, really don’t think you should be an EA. I think you could do it well, but I don’t think you would be satisfied. . .not if you loved the dumpster fire manufacturing job. And if you hate asking people to meet ridiculous schedules and budgets, how will you like gatekeeping for an exec? I have to bug EAs to bug their execs to get contracts signed all the time, so you aren’t getting away from that.

            I hear you on PM. It is all that, for sure. I have another thought, though. My company does consulting engineering and EPC, and we have a food and beverage group. Have you thought about consulting engineering for food and beverage? You go to the plant site, assess the dumpster fires, work with the client directly or with your own small team to design and implement a solution, and you have an endless supply of dumpster fires. You’re still doing project management, but it’s not as much Project Management. Sounds like relocating wouldn’t work, but our management has done a 180 on remote work now, so some companies may consider you for remote work now when they wouldn’t 6 months ago.

            1. Not A Girl Boss*

              Thank you so much for all the feedback. Consulting on an endless supply of dumpster fires sounds like heaven (as long as I don’t have to stay and live in the dumpster fire when it turns out management wasn’t really interested in learning to manage without screaming). At my first dumpster fire job I was most happy when I had the most fires to put out. I have put a lot of thought into going into consulting. I think the travel and time away from family would be tough. But I do think it would be super fulfilling.

    2. CostAlltheThings*

      I have totally fantasied about being a EA. I’m a decently experienced accountant and I tend to end up in support roles anyways just within accounting.

    3. Anon EA*

      As an EA, I can say it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, although I may be jaded by a boss who makes me want to quit. I can confirm the day-to-day lacks variety.

    4. Celestial being on a bike*

      I’d caution against romanticizing EA work. At many companies, it is a dead end position with no professional development. I’ve managed to move into another job where I am, but I’ve had to fight for it because if you’re good at this work, folks want you to keep doing it. It’s interesting that a job folks have little respect for is also really hard to hire!

      Also, EA can mean so many things. It can even be a powerful position at the right company, while at others, EAs are making copies and pouring coffee. If you decide to transition, pick a place with demonstrated commitment to growth, a place where you could become chief of staff or operations director. Otherwise, you might find your job title a big fat albatross around your neck.

      1. PM to EA?*

        Thanks. This is one of my concerns. At my company, EAs do frequently go on to become Directors. But the issue is, I don’t really think I want to be a director. I just also don’t know if I could truly be happy as an EA for the next 30 years, and I don’t know where I could go once I outgrew the position.

        1. Bob*

          Not sure if youre still checking this but as someone who likes the chaos of operations, if you have an aviation/engineering background, try looking for work in airports, business jet operations or something more operations focused?

          I know life stage can make those kind of jobs a bit hard (and the pay isnt always great), and certainly lack of experience can be hard, but I saw someone I used to be in university with go from starting as an operations analyst to head of the operations department in 4 years, and that is definitely a job that is all about figuring out how to put out fires on short notice (or planning to put out fires). Some companies will be better than others, but from what you say, I think you could definitely find a more fulfilling job in the industry, but definitely not on the project side :/

  88. Uranus Wars*

    I successfully transitioned from a career in higher ed administration (14 years) to a completely different career in training and development (not really but close enough) in 2015. As of January 2019 I am managing the department. But I had a few hard years in between and had to ask for everything I wanted.

    – late 2013 (while working FT in industry A) I was also working 8-10 hours a week at various organizations consulting in industry B and decided I wanted to see about Industry B becoming a full time career
    – early 2014 realized I’d need a specialized degree to transition to a career path, but it didn’t make sense to purse path B while FT in path A. I asked the largest org if they had any PT contract work available so I could make enough $ to live and gain experience win Ind. B while in school FT. THEY SAID YES.
    – on contract with no health insurance year 1 (2o hours) and years 2-3 (40 hours). Around year 4 1/2 I got promoted into leadership.

    I had a lot of stars align and a supportive partner. Both extremely important. I was also willing to take on student loan debt and got a decent rate on marketplace (partner and I were not married). I was willing to ask for what I wanted/needed and took the NOs but got a lot of YES, too. I could haven’t easily walked back into more money in Industry A and had health benefits, but I stuck with it.

    I also had a lot of transferable skills, which is what really got me to leadership. I had experience managing projects, managing budgets, training, teaching classes, running orientation workshops and sessions, presenting, having really hard conversations with students and parents, etc. In addition to the support at home these traits were instrumental in my success.

    1. schmacademia*

      May I ask why you left higher ed admin? I work as a lecturer while also doing some coordinator/acting director work for the continuing education dept. at my university. I am about a year away from receiving my Ed.D. I also plan to move across country to join my partner in Los Angeles at the end of the year, which was a plan set in motion before the world fell apart. I have decided I don’t want to teach. My subject matter is fairly niche. My former career was in television producing which I LOVED but had no job security. I was thinking of trying to get a job in administration at a school in California, but as someone fairly new to academia I don’t really understand all of the politics involved. I am not sure what to do. I feel paralyzed that I’m 30, about to make a major life change, and don’t know what I “want to be when I grow up.”

      1. Uranus Wars*

        Hey, hopefully you see this. I didn’t have time to log back in yesterday.

        I enjoyed academia but one reason I left was because of a move to a mid-south state city that didn’t have a lot of opportunity for my level of experience. It was all very very entry level in pay.

        it was much more laid back, with busy times of year and a generous time off package. But both institutions I worked act were filled with limited boundaries and a lot of petty b.s. Both things I hear are common in academia.

        1. schmacademia*

          Thanks so much for taking the time to reply. I’ve definitely heard the same re: petty and political stuff. The university where I work now is so small that there is much less of that, but still a little bit. The time off is promising! Flexibility and the ability to travel is something that is really important to me.

  89. Jester*

    I’m 30 and I’m in the middle of a career change from a web designer to a librarian. Got my undergrad in English and Art so it’s not as crazy a swing as it seems. Librarians need a master’s so I was going to school parttime while still working as a web designer for almost a year. I kept grad school almost completely secret. It was just a couple of coworkers I considered friends who even knew I was in school. I just couldn’t spin how a library science degree would be relevant to design and I didn’t want my company knowing I wasn’t committed. I also intentionally stop trying to moving up the ladder. We had quarterly reviews and there’s that moment when your boss asks if you have anything else to talk about. It would normally be the perfect place to say, what about a raise or a promotion, but I just said everything was good because I just wanted my paycheck so I could go home and do my homework. A freelancer even thought the company was doing me dirty because I was below where years of experience should have put me. I quietly pulled him aside and explained. I found a parttime library job, so I gave notice at my full-time position and switched the ratios of work and school. I have one class left until I finish my degree so I’m job hunting now for a full-time library job (great timing right?).

  90. Filosofickle*

    I started my career as a graphic designer, a field I really liked. But over time I had worked my way more and more into the strategy & content sides. The questions I asked of my clients to do my work as a designer — what does this need to say? why do you exist? who is the audience and what matters to them? — they often had no answers for. So I started finding those answers and accidentally became a strategist. In my late 30s I got a highly unusual MBA and am now a brand/business strategist. The fields are certainly related, so it wasn’t a gigantic leap, but the tasks have entirely changed. Now mostly I do research, analysis, and writing. In hindsight I may not have needed an extra degree to make the switch, though it definitely built my portfolio and confidence. I’m glad I did it.

    My BF is currently switching to a new career in his late 40s. He didn’t really have one before — a mishmash of service jobs and military. Most recently he’d gotten certified for IT work thinking that was a “good” path but even though he was earning more than ever he absolutely hated it. What he really wanted to be is a psychotherapist, but had spent decades talking himself out of that path. I’m happy for him that he’s finally on the path to his calling.

    1. DG*

      I’d love to know more about brand strategist–I’ve spent years managing individual brands in my current job, but not officially/with the title. Laid off given covid and brand management and strategy is really intriguing (one of the things I enjoyed most in previous career was figuring out how to build the brands and coming up with creative idas to build/promote them…). Thanks!

      1. Filosofickle*

        Brand strategy is a strange field in that no one gets a degree in it — it’s something that most people just bump into. 10 years ago, I didn’t even see strategist or junior strategist job listings, though I could find Directors of Strategy. I was like, how do I get move up to that if there are no stepping stones?! Asking around, I discovered it was being done by account directors, creative directors, agency principals, mostly senior level creative or marketing folks but sometimes junior too. Often with no formal qualifications, just good questions and good instincts. There are a lot of paths to cross over, usually inside a creative agency. (Brand strategists almost always work for a consulting/creative firm. Brand managers can work on the consulting side or in house.)

        The good news is that’s changed and there are now lots of jobs with that title. If you already have experience building brands and promoting them, you may already be qualified for a strategy position. The skill gaps crossover strategists usually need to shore up are: 1) Business knowledge. You have to truly get their industry, see market trends, and be able to analyze the competition. They will give you a lot of what you need, but you should be able to bring your own insights. 2) Research and analysis. Doing primary qualitative research is my biggest new skill (and what I learned in grad school). I spend a lot of time talking to people, listening for insights, and helping the company understand its audiences. 3) Storytelling. Being able to spin a great narrative and help them envision an idea helps immensely.

        I’d be happy to talk to you directly, if we could figure out how!

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I’m technically in marketing communications, but I find I’m really doing work that is more like yours!
      It’s a lot of research, go to market positioning and writing… but then I also have to write and design all the marketing deliverables too.

      1. Filosofickle*

        Yes! Brand strategy is a wiggly field that can be done by a lot of roles, and marcom is definitely one of them. I’d say it’s more common that brand strategy is done by someone without that title than with.

        On the flip side, about half the gigs I end up with are actually marcom because there’s so much more of it. Everyone needs messaging and content, all the time. They want strategy a lot less often. The thing I won’t do anymore is design, though my decks are beautiful!

  91. Hillary*

    LOVE THIS!

    I decided at 26 (so not midlife but still…) that I wanted to quit my job in advertising after 4 years and become a PA. I’m now 28 and 2 years in to the process and won’t actually be a licensed, practicing PA until I’m at least 33. I’ll be fully transparent and say that I had a lot of savings and no student loans which made going back to school to complete prerequisite classes much easier. But the biggest thing for me was not thinking about how “late” I was to starting (most PA students start programs at age 25 and I’ll be 30 by the time I start one) but recognizing that I still have 30+ years that’ll be able to practice medicine. 30 YEARS! I spent 3 months just researching EVERYTHING that I needed to do and laid out a whole plan that, of course, didn’t pan out how I wanted. But because I had done so much research I could pivot and adjust as needed. I’m certain that this is the career I want so the time, money and energy spent getting there is worth it. Happy to answer other questions about the process ! I also highly recommend the book “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” by David Epstein if need a confidence boost that your unrelated background is a real strength.

    I’m not married and I don’t have kids but I’m already looking forward to being a bada** Pediatric Emergency Medicine PA while 8 months pregnant some day.

    1. Filosofickle*

      I have a friend who moved across the country to go back to school to be a PA last year — she’s 47!

  92. Lauren*

    Went to college for journalism and worked in public relations for Big Tobacco for several years before taking time off to start a family. When my kids were older, I wanted to go back to work but I wanted something more structured than public relations. I knew that there were many job opportunities in the medical field, but I knew that I couldn’t handle the blood and guts aspect. Plus, I was pretty burned out on working with people!

    I found a program at a local college that trained medical records coders and was intrigued by that. I found that it was a growing field, the pay was good and there was no patient contact. Plus, there was the eventual possibility of working from home. I completed the program, took the CPC exam (a must) and 14 years later, here I am! It’s worked out magnificently for me.

    And it’s more than a little ironic that, in my Big Tobacco position, I headed a committee to keep secondhand smoke out of the ICD-9 (International Classification of Diseases) and now I actually work with that information.

  93. not that kind of Doctor*

    Hilariously I went the opposite way to the OP – from film/tv to accounting, with the variation that I was not a writer but a techie (sound postproduction) and I was only about 25. I haven’t read everything above but I did see a couple of things I agree with:

    1) “Glamour” jobs suck and will eat your life. Part of the reason I left is a phone call I overheard while working at 2am, a guy calling his wife to say he wouldn’t be seeing the kids the next day either, and I knew the project he was working on was utter garbage. Not worth those kids’ time with their dad by a long way. Plus I had no control over my schedule or my projects, no life when I was working and no money when I wasn’t. The people I knew who “made it” had partners who took care of literally everything.
    2) Writing is something you can do forever. You can keep on writing scripts and pitching them while the accounting job pays the bills. Harder with kids, of course – you really need a supportive partner. I love the idea of writing for a friend’s YouTube show or something! My cousin actually does this full time, but I would not wish the last 20 years of his life on anyone – and he doesn’t have kids.

    When I switched I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I started by temping. I don’t know how doable that is in today’s environment, or at an older age.

    1. Reformed TV Girl*

      I came here to post pretty much the same thing! I went from being an on-camera reporter and TV show host to working in marketing. The TV job was wonderful for where I was at the time — fresh out of school, in my 20s and very early 30s. It was a blast, I had some phenomenal experiences … but it burnt me out and I was unable to have a personal life at all. The job owned my schedule, my mental energy, my life. Not to mention, these jobs are extremely low-paying for the hours that they demand. Most of the people I know who “made it” in this world did not have partners or families. Those that did were mostly men who found women to take care of everything for them, and not to overgeneralize, but far too many of these men seemed to have affairs on the side.

      As you mention, not that kind of Doctor, glamour jobs ARE NOT AS GLAMOROUS AS THEY SEEM! The thing about being a writer at your job, for instance, is you will be zapped of energy and will have no desire to write on your own by the time you get home. You won’t have the mental space to do the writing that you want to do (and you WILL want to do it) on your own. Writing is a skill, talent, hobby — whatever — that you can do no matter your day job. Remember that … and I hope you continue to do it!

      1. schmacademia*

        Also a former production person turned to a relatively unrelated career. My partner still works in reality TV, as do most of our friends. I miss the fun parts of production: traveling to exotic locales with your friends (the crew), decent pay (long hours, but when you are young and single it doesn’t feel like as much of a sacrifice), free swag (my entire kitchen and most of my home are outfitted with luxury trade out items I got to bring home after wrap), fun workplace (getting to wear what you want, crafty, catered lunches everyday, excitement from being on set). I left the industry because I was freelance with no benefits and little chance of joining the union. I wanted more job security, but I am about a year from graduating with a doctorate in a kind-of niche field and am not sure what I want to do next.

  94. Lyudie*

    I was a technical writer for years and burned out. I started taking some graduate-level courses in adult learning and instructional design. A couple years ago I was able to move to a different organization in my company. There’s a lot of transferable skills, so it’s not as dramatic as some career pivots.

  95. Jonno*

    I’ve been at higher education (finance) for nearly ten years. It was my second job out of college. I’m 34, and I want to get into tech — specifically information systems, sys admin and network security. I’ve heard transitioning to tech is very hard past the 20s…is that true? I already have a grad certificate in information systems and I know I will need to get other certs, but is it a lost cause?

    1. sara*

      I can’t speak specifically to sys admin etc. but I switched to tech in my mid-30s (I’m 38 now) and haven’t had any issues in that regard. My current boss is younger than me by a couple years, so that’s something to keep in mind. I think it’s helped that I’ve intentionally looked for jobs in companies that don’t have the stereotypical dev/startup culture. At my current job, there is a ping pong table (well, was…), but also a group of people who like to talk about books and their plants at lunch.

      And from the CEO down, a huge focus on respecting boundaries between work and personal life. Being older than probably 3/4 of the other developers really isn’t any issue at all. I’ve found more “work friends” on other teams, but that’s a little bit intentional in terms of trying to get to know people more than just my teammates.

  96. MissGirl*

    I worked in book publishing for a number of years, which I loved but got tired of the low pay and decreasing job options. I went back to school full time for my MBA. My plan was to focus on marketing in the outdoor industry (my other passion), but saw some of the same problems there (lots of people with passion competing for low paying jobs).

    My counselors told me that there was more opportunity in marketing analytics and I made that my focus. By the time I graduated, I figured there was no point in limiting myself to an industry or just marketing and went after all types of analytic jobs.

    I ended up in healthcare data analytics. It’s not exactly the dream job I had envisioned but I was finally able to buy a new car and a home of my own. I paid off my student loans in two years and will crack the six-figure income this year (crossing my fingers about COVID). I graduated three years ago this month. I actually do enjoy the work even it wasn’t what I envisioned.

    Tips for others: Figure out your broad skills and how to translate them to other fields. I use my graphic design background for data visualizations. I love putting together puzzles and see data as a giant puzzle. Do not lock yourself into an industry or job. I was bored to death my first six months, but once I started to learn the ins and outs of healthcare, it became fascinating. Take calculated risks (do the calculation before the risk). Tell yourself you are capable of more and don’t let fear guide you.

    1. Anon EA*

      Ooh, could you describe your work in more detail? I’m currently an EA in healthcare and am looking to transition my skills to another position in the industry.

      1. MissGirl*

        I work with patient data using SQL and Excel mostly. I use some visual tools (like Tableau, QlikView) to create dashboards.

        As for the actual work, in my last role it was heavy financial data. I worked in contracting, determining pay rates for insurers, pricing for specific procedures, financial impact around changes policy. Now I’m working more on the patient side of things like improving care and access.

        For instance the clinicians may want to set a goal in patient care like taking so many steps after surgery. I’ll build a dashboard they can access at any time that shows how many patients have met that goal. Then they can dig in to the ones who don’t and see if there are commonalities like type of surgery, surgeon, drugs, etc.

        It’s really cool to know that I’m helping people and improving healthcare.

    2. blaise zamboni*

      I would also love some more details on your work! I’m in healthcare compliance but I have a statistical background that I’ve always lamented not using more. Data analytics is actually where I’ve hoped to end up for a long time, but I’m not sure how to get there (without going back to school which I’d rather not do).

      1. MissGirl*

        There’s a definite need for statisticians and they make good money. Can you leverage your network for some informational interviews to see what they would recommend? Most of us love to talk about what we do and how we got there. Can you find some more entry level positions and apply? Maybe you’ll be surprised by an interview. If not, at least that’s a data point you now have.

        1. blaise zamboni*

          Both of those are great suggestions! I’ve only been in my current role for about a year so I’m working on building a network and reputation at this company (last role wasn’t good for that, this one is a great opportunity). I will definitely pursue both of those options in the near future, though. I saved your other post to a sticky note so I can reference it for later — it was really helpful to see specifics about the field, and very encouraging to read about someone making a career pivot into analytics. Thank you again for sharing and responding!

          1. MissGirl*

            One other thing. If you don’t have experience in coding, you could take an R class. That’ll be a must skill.

  97. LargeHippo*

    I’m so glad to see this. I’m in my late 30s and am thinking of attending a coding bootcamp to change careers to tech from hospitality. My company got one of those payroll loans so we were able to return to work after a furlough, but I’m an event planner in a restaurant and I think layoffs will be coming again. Does anyone have any insight on starting a tech career around age 40? I’d love to hear some success stories!

    1. Desiree Holm*

      hi – I didn’t see your post before writing my own post(see below). I became a medical coder at age 38- best thing I ever did.

  98. History to Welding*

    My husband went to college for history. Who knows why, he didn’t want to be a teacher or any other traditional history jobs. By 30 he’d grown really sick of retail jobs. So he went to night school to become a welder. Then he had to take a job in a fab shop as an assistant and work his way up. It was a really rough 2-3 years for the both of us. But welding is a super in-demand field and as soon as he got some experience tons of people wanted to hire him. He finds the creative and problem solving aspect really fulfilling.
    He is now a union welder making $90k with amazing work/life balance. He works exactly 40 hours a week and listens to audio books all day. I’m quite jealous.

    He is going back to school to get his MBA, which he plans to leverage into a fab shop supervisor position. This is good since he may need a non-physical backup job some day. He’s also played with the idea of becoming a welding teacher, since he loves his craft so much.

    1. Lilith*

      I know that ‘fab shop’ must mean something like ‘fabrication shop’, but I will be honest and say I read it as ‘fabulous shop’ and that sounds like an amazing place to work :)

      1. History to Welding*

        This is fantastic and I will never be able to unhear it.

        Fabrication* shops are typically small job shops that will take small production run orders for other companies. They’re a more fun (maybe even fabulous) place to work as a trades person, because the thing you’re making is constantly changing and there is always something new to figure out.

    2. MissGirl*

      We will need to do a better job of pushing kids to do non-traditional non-college paths.

    3. ReadingTheStoics*

      I’m so glad to see this – construction so frequently gets dismissed as undesirable for college-capable folks, and we need smart folks to help make our buildings and bridges! I’m an architect, and construction is crying for people.
      Particularly outside of urban areas, you don’t need any kind of degree to get started, just a willingness to be active/dirty, your own transport to get to sites (a huge problem is help simply not showing up), and ability to learn/stay off your phone.

  99. Mimmy*

    I’m making a career change too. Actually, it’s more of a pivot rather than a complete change. My career has taken a whole bunch of twists and turns!

    I originally started doing office work – mainly data entry but one job included secretarial tasks later on. I’d been eyeing social work or rehab counseling for some time but was too chicken. It was when a coworker at one job encouraged me to go for it, saying that I was not allowing myself to reach my full potential. That’s when I decided to go for the MSW.

    Fast forward to 2017 after a whole bunch of challenges peppered with some good opportunities, a job as an instructional aide with blind and visually impaired adults fell into my lap. I’d long given up on getting into social work and even dropped my license, but my supervisor always encouraged me to use my social work skills when working with my students.

    Yet, my dream has always been to work in a postsecondary education coordinating accommodations for students with disabilities and/or address accessibility issues. So that is what I’m working towards now. While many in this field have social work backgrounds, I decided to pursue a second Masters that is specific to this field. The coursework is also promoted as being applicable to other settings as well.

    I’m still at the beginning of this process but had been eyeing the program since it started about 5 years ago. The challenge has been the pandemic because I have no idea what disability and accessibility services is going to look like going forward. My own self doubts has been a challenge as well.

    I just hope it’s not too late – I’m well into my 40s, so I don’t know how employers will take to someone of my age starting a new field.

    1. History to Welding*

      My mom was a software engineer who quit in her 40s to work at a state college coordinating accommodations for students. I think she was able to get the job (with no social working education or anything like that) because they needed someone to manage the accommodation database. But she ended up working with the students directly pretty frequently – for instance, she appropriated a spare classroom to set up a healthy breakfast bar and a little study area, and they’d all hang out in the mornings. From chatting with them, she’d learn what their challenges were and be able to better service them.

      She absolutely loved the job and felt really fulfilled in it. She stayed there for 4 years, until my younger brother got his drivers license and I graduated high school, and then ended up transitioning back to a software engineer job and the crazy hours that came with it.

  100. Tin Cormorant*

    I’m in the middle of this myself. I’ve always loved nature, and got pressured to go into biology/laboratory science from a young age. I HATED writing lab reports, and ended up burning out of college in year 5 with still far too many required classes to take that were only offered once every other year, and falling into a “career” in my other biggest skill set, video game testing. It was satisfying at times but paid very poorly (and it’s frustrating to find bugs all day when the higher-ups decide fixing them doesn’t help their bottom line 90% of the time) so when my husband’s career started to do well enough to support both of us, I quit. My job left me so exhausted at the end of each day that any attempt to

    Ended up spending five years as a combination part-time student and stay-at-home mom to our young daughter while I took classes at a local community college to get an Associate’s degree in landscape design. I luckily *just* graduated in December, thanking my lucky stars because my school was already having some serious financial trouble before this due to rampant embezzlement by a revolving door of admins, so I’d be shocked if it doesn’t go belly-up before I would have had a chance to finish the last class I needed.

    My advice to people is similar to some others in this thread: find a way that you can combine your previous skill set and experience with something new that’s more interesting to you. In my case, I’m extremely analytical, love spreadsheets, and my many years of video games make 3D design software intuitive for me. I can combine my computer skills with nature to start creating computer models of what people’s landscapes will look like. I’m not able to look for a job during this time due to childcare centers still being mostly closed, but I can spend a lot of that time practicing my skills in my chosen software and studying different kinds of plants used in my area.

  101. Ruthless Bunny*

    In 2008 my industry (Telecommunications) contracted. After 25 years I took a buyout.

    I decided to go into Sales Ops, learned the heck out of Excel and Salesforce. Then learned a lot about Salesforce.

    I worked at different places and for the past 5 years, I’ve been a consultant for a global firm. I’m 57 and happy as a clam at high tide!

    Learn Salesforce. They have a great tutorial on-line.

  102. Louisa M*

    Great question: I was on the academic track in English lit, and then looked around and realized many of my peers who had graduated were underemployed sessionals, and it would take a stroke of luck for me to actually earn a living wage. So I used the admin skills gained through my graduate assistantships to take an admin position in a community health agency, and have progressed to a management position overseeing client services. In the community health field my ability to plan and execute on a tight timeline along with critical thinking skills was treated as a rare gift; there was far more transferrable skills than I would have anticipated!

  103. Dlique*

    I’m orchestrating a career change now at 32 although I don’t think of it as mid-life. I’m working in higher ed, and one of my benefits is free tuition, so I’m working toward a master’s in computer science. It’s really challenging to work full time and go to school, but doing it for FREE is pretty good motivator. I definitely recommend this route for people considering going back to school, at least something to look into! (It’s important to note that getting another degree is not necessary for a lot of career changes, probably not very applicable to the LW here. In my case I tried a bootcamp-like program in the past and I just found it really didn’t get me to the level where I could transition into tech, but my master’s program is way more rigorous.) If a degree is looking like the next best step and you’re not sure how to pay for it, consider transitioning into a job in higher ed if you can.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      This is a really good idea. You have at least the few months practical experience from the bootcamp and going for the masters in comp sci to flesh it out more. I’ve seen a lot of people go from bachelors to masters for comp sci and have no experience outside of projects they participated in as part of the curriculum.

    2. Leonine*

      Hi Dlique! I have nothing to add to your good advice, but I needed to say that I LOVE your username. I dream of a whole series where Breq teams up with Translator Zeiat amd they travel the universe fighting crime.

  104. schmacademia*

    I work as a lecturer while also doing some coordinator/acting director work for the continuing education dept. at my university. I am about a year away from receiving my Ed.D. I also plan to move across country to join my partner in Los Angeles at the end of the year, which was a plan set in motion before the world fell apart. I have decided I don’t want to teach. My subject matter is fairly niche. My former career was in television producing which I LOVED but had no job security. I was thinking of trying to get a job in administration at a school in California, but as someone fairly new to academia I don’t really understand all of the politics involved. I am not sure what to do. I feel paralyzed that I’m 30, about to make a major life change, and don’t know what I “want to be when I grow up.”

    I am great at organizing, planning, and coordinating, but I feel like those skills are a dime a dozen. I’ve traveled and lived internationally, which feels like it could be helpful in some way, but I’m not sure how to sell myself.

  105. bekala*

    I went from academia to the federal government, in a job in a related field, so it wasn’t a total career change. It was a great job, but not a great job for me, so I left, at the age of 38, to start alllll over again in a different field, which is academic-adjacent, so I didn’t close the circle, but definitely made an arc back in that direction. I was hired for an entry-level position, and in my interview I talked up my liberal arts/humanities training and it was those skills that got me the job. Five years later I’m a manager, the little company that hired me got acquired by a behemoth in our field, my salary has improved as have prospects for upward advancement, so it worked out.

    Advice? 1) The federal government has a huge, huge range of jobs, and they are hiring, plus the benefits are great, so if you’re motivated by public service, look there. 2) If you’re truly changing careers, you’ll most likely have to take a pay cut (my salary was nearly halved when I left the government), and I had to really cut back on my expenses, so you’ll want to evaluate your own situation and see what changes you can support, whether they are changes to income, hours worked, commutes (if remote work isn’t an option).

  106. Leah V*

    I got a bachelors of science in Anthro&Archeo then moved to Guatemala for a research project. It got published which is great but once I was back I wanted to shift towards social work since all my volunteer experience was in that area/non profits. I ended up working as a career trainer & raised to being a program director. I realized I could ride this out & keep teaching for the program but i’d made all the curriculum, made it a success, grant funded it for years to come – so why did it need to be me?

    I applied to grad school & got in. Went with a full ride for an MBA & Masters in MIS. I got a great job as a consultant in strategy & consulting for a big 4 firm & they actually have a non-profit arm where they serve those clients to the same degree as traditional clients. I have been blown away & it’s such a good fit. I may transition back into Non-profits later in my career (read closer to retirement) so i’ve been directing some corporate citizenship groups on the side. I work just as much but my reach is much further (& the pay is much better).

    Now I’m able to support causes via my org & donate money much more than I ever would have been able in my prior position.
    I have been trying to do good, well & to do the most good – it’s finally happening.

  107. LeisureSuitLarry*

    I spent 16 years working in the accounting field. By the end I was tired, burnt-out, and I hated my job, my management, and my company. I tried several times to move into other things. For most of those 16 years I was an internal auditor. I’m not one that requires a lot of praise at work, but I got sick and tired of being the least liked person in the room the instant I set foot through the door. I tried very hard to get out of it, but even in a company where it was allegedly easy to change roles I couldn’t get any traction. I tried looking at the same jobs at other companies, but I bombed those interviews. I suspect I bombed them because I couldn’t generate enough interest in the work to fake it through an interview. Whatever, I don’t care. I got out. I eventually just wrote up my resignation letter and quit. I did everything the way that Alison would say not to. I didn’t talk to my immediate manager first. I didn’t care if it came as a surprise to him and I didn’t plan on ever using him for a reference. I got to work on Monday morning and sent an email to my department’s entire management group from the vice president to the newest manager saying I was done and my last day would be x+2 weeks. One of the managers said she’d never seen me look happier.

    I had a very vague plan. Take an intro to code class that I was already in, take the next one, do a two month bootcamp (that was competitive to get in and I hadn’t gotten in yet), and get a job coding somewhere. I left my job in June, learned code between June and the end of October, and got offered a new job writing code on Xmas Eve. I worked at that place for a year before they either fired me or laid me off (the action was a firing but the language was that of a lay-off). I spent 8 months unemployed before I found my current position. I now work at a company that I like and where I seem to be somewhat respected. I get input on my projects. My direct manager is new to managing people, but he seems like he’s going to be the kind of manager I like: mostly hands off and there if I need someone to break through a barrier.

    Overall, switching careers mid-life (I was in my early forties when I did it and my mid-forties now) turned out to be one of the most terrifying but gratifying experiences I’ve ever had. I hate taking risks, but I’m glad I took this one.

  108. Category is: University Student Realness*

    From someone that will (hopefully) start another career change this fall: thanks to everyone that commented here with their story and advice.

    I’m 30 years old, have an undergrad in journalism. My dream was to be a fashion journalist in print, although I worked for about 4 years on websites while studying. After I graduated, I had no job prospects and decided to pursue a masters in fashion studies in a different country to become more specialized in journalism/communications. After being in the new country for two years, I decided that I wanted to stay. As I’m not fluent in the native language, it would be difficult to find a job as reporter/editor that didn’t require fluency, so I decided to get a second masters in marketing, which I graduated last year. I managed to secure a paid internship in social media with a great company, but they were not able to hire me full time. So here I am, nine months later, sending my CV to every position open. It’s been two months since I interviewed for the last time. As I don’t want to come back to my home country, I applied to a data analyst program and plan to take student loans to support myself. I’m still waiting to hear if I’m admitted or not. I’m honestly a bit tired from studying so much through my 20’s. I just wanted to work, but it’s either studying or being unemployed in my home country.

  109. Leonine*

    Oh my goodness, I need this. I have been an adjunct English professor for almost ten years, and I love the work, but the job is TERRIBLE, and at 45, I am done being disrespected (just by the schools–the students are great) and *staggeringly* underpaid. I started working on my paralegal certificate a couple years ago. I was getting ready to start job hunting when the pandemic hit, but I’m honestly terrified of everything about it. I have an MA in English, and my reading and writing skills and my soft skills are all top-notch, but…yeah. Terrified. Will the MA help? What will this transition be like? My last non-academic job was in 2001; can I hack a “real” job? I know the pay will be better, but will anything else be better? Ugh. Any advice or pointers or warnings or reassurance would be much appreciated.

  110. Rosalita*

    Im not sure of this is midlife but here you go. I went to school and got a degree in communications. I graduated and bill collectors came calling so I got a job as a receptionist for an Architect. I like my job and really liked the field. It still didn’t quite fit. I was debating on what to do when 2008 decided it for me and I got laid off. I got another job working for a non profit doing related work. It was better but still not quite there. I went to school got my degree in construction. This was nearly 8 years after I graduated from college. I got a new job working for a General Contractor and it fit. It was perfect and exactly what I wanted and I’ve never been happier in my career choice it took almost 10 years to get there but I love it. And I don’t for a single minute regret my circuitous route.

    1. Nicotene*

      Oh man this is great, I actually wish I could go back and look at some non-traditionally-feminine things like construction – I would much rather have had a job where I was outside and doing things with my hands, versus what I did, which was a bunch of admin stuff. I could have pursued something like electrician work or plumbing and earned more than I do now.

      1. Rosalita*

        I work in a somewhat administrative role but its a role that has mostly men in it. Its getting better in that regard but I have no regrets in my career choice hands down best choice I have ever made. I know women who went into the trades and LOVED it. Others not so much but they all liked that they gave it a shot.

      2. ReadingTheStoics*

        I’m a female architect. Please consider the trades, as we’re hurting for folks, particularly in non-urban areas.
        There’s a tile crew I know where the youngest person on it is in his mid-60’s, and his father-in-law works on his knees also. The average age of plumbers in the US is mid-60s. The super is 74, and the project manager 65. No one is retiring – they can afford to, but it’s so nice to be needed, and the skills are so hard to get, people are not disposable. I know an all-female painting crew. I like to follow OneChickTaper on the FB group Construction Pros. The Youtube account AnneOfAllTrades is an inspiring finance-to-trades story. The blog PrettyHandyGirl is a midlife switch to the trades story.

  111. Manana*

    I worked for 20 years in healthcare insurance claims and transitioned to being a professional artist and performer full time about 1.5 years ago. This was made possible only by my spouse’s income, and I also work event gigs (or did prior to coronavirus) to fill in the gaps.

    One thing to seriously consider is if you truly want to dedicate your life to an artistic endeavor or if you just have a hobby you want to spend more time on. Creative employment is a 24/7 thing and a lot of that time is spent on the hustle, not creating art. Whether it’s updating websites, taking and editing pics of your work, emailing and calling potential performers, marketing, networking, going to meetings about your project that ultimately fall through, there’s a lot of non-creative work that eats up your time no matter what practice or industry.

    Also, creative work can be very demoralizing. Whatever art you practice, make sure it’s something you love enough to fail at it for many years. You are putting your heart and soul into work that will mostly be ignored. Whatever it is you want to do, make sure you love the work and process enough to keep going without external validation.

    If it’s just you and your income, have all your ducks in a row and have a recognizable source of income/sales/bookings/gigs before quitting your job. It’s much easier to scale up an active but small creative business than to start from scratch and build up a paying clientele while your savings dwindle. You may find yourself taking time-consuming piece work more than you want in order to get income flowing.

    Take the chance! Unless you will be risking the future of your children or setting yourself up for catastrophe, take the chance. We get so trapped in the race of money and things, but living to your full creative potential is a feeling like no other. Even when I’m not selling art or performing, I feel powerful and capable. This business is mine, this work is mine, I created it, and my work enriches me and not some board of stockholders.

    If it doesn’t work, take another job to pay your bills and KEEP AT IT! Never stop creating even if it doesn’t pay. Artists are artists because they create art, not because someone decides to give them money. A job is just how you make money, it’s not who you are.

    1. BookNerd*

      It’s true, I’m a full time novelist and people think that means I get to write 40 hours a week. Nooo, I get to write maybe a few hours a day at most, the rest of it is all hustling and marketing.

      1. Manana*

        When I watch documentaries about artists see studio assistants buzzing around in the background packing up work and answering emails I get so jealous! Lol

    2. emmelemm*

      From everyone I know in creative fields, yeah, the ratio of hustle to actually doing art is high, very high. So, you have to be prepared for that.

  112. Math Teacher*

    Both my partner and I have made massive mid-career changes.

    I graduated from law school at 23, and realized by 25 I had made a giant mistake. I wasn’t working for a big firm making a ton of money, so I didn’t exactly have a huge cushion to make a career switch, and had a ton of debt, so I stayed in the field longer than I should have. But then at 30 I was fired by a terrible boss, which forced me to do a hard reset on my career goals. I ended up doing 3 years of legal temp work while I got my teaching certificate, and have been a classroom teacher for the past 4 years. Getting fired was the best thing that could have ever happened to me, and I love my current profession.

    My partner is now planning his exit from a high-intensity, high-paying career of 10+ years to pursue his dream of becoming a professional sports referee. We may even end up relocating internationally. It started with me asking him what types of jobs he think he’d actually be happy with, and him saying “well, you’d be really upset with this idea, but I want to be a professional referee, and I’ve been looking into it for a few years….” He was shocked when I told him I’d be 10000% down for that. We recognize it’ll take hard work and some good luck for him to end up on TV one day, but he’s got the skills, has always loved sports and being athletic, and already does this as a very time-intensive hobby. So it sounds “crazy” to others, but it’s actually a decently realistic option.

    My general takeaways from the career change:

    -People who do make major career changes often end up being better at their next career than those who have done it from the beginning. Having outside experience helps bring perspective to any career, and you have developed more transferable skills than you realize.
    -Think big, but be super-realistic about your plans. If the “dream” career involves a high level of chance, do you have the emotional wherewithal to keep with it even if things don’t work out right away?
    -Do you already have the skills the dream career needs? If not, can you create a plan to get them?
    -Be sure you know what you liked and disliked about your first career, otherwise the same issues might follow you to the new one.

    1. Manana*

      I think once you get into another industry you’ll find that academia is outrageously sexist and racist in a way that people not in that world will be gobsmacked by. The personality culture that is inherent in academia can and does exist elsewhere but not to that sort of entrenched degree. There are assholes in all fields, but the insular, secretive bureaucracy that dominates both educators and students in academics is its own beast.

  113. Nicotene*

    I am in the middle of trying to do this (I’m in my mid-thirties, and it seems to be a prime time for this in my friend group: you have put in a lot of hussle to get where you are, but you are not really seeing a lot of the results). I was in grants management and am now freelancing reporting and marketing materials.

    I am love, love, loving being my own boss, “eating what I kill” and having short-term projects instead of eternal program babysitting … however, I probably picked the worst year in recent history to try this experiment, and I don’t know if I will ever make as much as I did before. I may end up exactly like OP, doubling down on my previous career and just being grateful for a salary.

    I hope I will at least still be grateful that I gave myself this chance, as I’d been dreaming about it for years.

  114. sara*

    Success story here. I majored in Biology, then did informal/museum education for about 4 years, then worked as an animal keeper/biologist at an aquarium for about 8 years. After about 5 years at the aquarium, I knew that I wanted to do more/something else. For a while that was exploring how to move up in that field, but basically my options were to wait around for my boss to retire or get insanely lucky with a job at a different facility. So I started to explore other things.

    Long story short, I ended up taking a 12 week web development bootcamp – I finished 4 years ago. The bootcamp I went to was very digital agency focused – there was web dev, digital marketing, and UX design programs and we’d all work together on projects, etc. So I thought (and was excited by) the prospect of working at an agency, doing some fun digital projects and websites, maybe some apps.

    But my first job out of bootcamp was at a very small cloud-based software company (like 4 other devs), and they let me really learn what I needed to learn, try things out, and really came to be able to work alongside the rest of the team who all had comp sci backgrounds.

    Worked there for about 3 years and now I’m at a slightly larger company doing similar stuff – super niche cloud-based software, but now actually in a science/biology adjacent industry. I really am so happy with the change I made in my career, and that I found an even better fit than if I’d ended up at an agency. I just literally had no idea that what I’m doing was even an option!

    People ask if the bootcamp was “worth it” and for me that’s a complicated answer. The actual information I learned wasn’t really the “worth it” part. I learned how to learn to code, to read docs, debug code, and pick things up quickly. I learned how to talk about code, talk to stakeholders, and tech/non-tech teammates. I learned how, in an interview or networking situation, to explain how/why I have changed careers (and without it derailing the conversation). Plus it was a great introduction into the local tech scene. Oh, and my current boss was one of my instructors, which definitely helped me get an interview for my current job.

  115. Merry Rose*

    High school Spanish teacher -> bilingual legal assistant -> government auditor

    I’ve done one complete change of field and one big pivot in roles within my new field. At 30 I was completely burnt out as a high school Spanish teacher and was looking for a new career path that I could pursue without going back to school. I settled on becoming a legal assistant, which I would be able to do with my liberal arts degree.
    At 30 I landed an entry level job as a bilingual legal assistant at a disability hearing office. I hoped to work my way up to be doing paralegal work. 7 years in I had been promoted to senior legal assistant and then to lead legal assistant. I had a temporary assignment doing the paralegal work I had hoped for, but there were no permanent positions available. So, I started applying farther afield for my promotion opportunities.
    At 37 I started in my current job as an auditor. I do not have auditing background, but I sold my experience training new employees and reviewing their work as a transferrable auditing skill and I am considered to be a “subject matter expert” in the auditing with my background at the disability hearing office (one of the components that we audit).
    I took a real pay cut when I went from teaching to being an entry level legal assistant, but it was so worth it to get a job where I could choose when to take my time off and I would be compensated for any hours over 40 that I worked in a week. I think the things that helped me get the very different jobs was my focus on the way that my skills would be an asset and clearly articulating why this new area of work interested me.

  116. Emma Woodhouse*

    Not me, but I work with a lot of former attorneys and that’s have made the transition to public relations/communications. In my experience they’re most successful when they come in at more senior levels and don’t need to be involved in the day-to-day. I think it’s challenging to manage junior staff on tasks they have not done themselves. The best middle managers I had spent their entire career or almost entire career in comms – the worst were those that came from other industries.

  117. BemmyLover*

    IT Security Consultant: Security Control and Process Management providing guidance in CIP, SOX, NIST, TSA, and SANS compliance.
    For 20 years I washed other people’s dirty clothes for a living. I was a self-employed laundromat owner/attendant when in 2008 the business could no longer support my family.
    I researched job opportunities and found most good paying ($40,000+) entry level jobs were for people with business or IT degrees. Further research showed that IT had the fastest potential increase in salary over number of years worked.
    At 48 I went back to college (with an A.A.) to complete a BBA in Infrastructure Management. I had the advantage of having a husband who could take over the business so I could attend full-time, the ability to take on debt, and two college age sons who were hard-core computer/software development guys. That said, I could not compete with most of my fellow students on technical acumen – it was A LOT of hard studying. However, once out of school I had the advantage. With me, the employer was getting an entry level, yet mature adult, with business experience and a demonstrated willingness to learn and take risks. It was a good risk. In ten years I’ve worked for three companies and my salary has increased 3.5x the 2010 entry wage for my market.

    1. Newer to Tech*

      I agree with you, being an adult in tech can have more advantages than you think! I see way too many job postings looking for Rock Stars that I suspect will burn out their employees. Experienced adults know enough to filter through those and good employers see the benefits of hiring someone more mature.
      I feel you on struggling through school for tech. I studied hard to understand concepts and make it through, but end in the end it also won me awards from my grades and motivation.

  118. Gail Davidson-Durst*

    Success story – I got a law degree from a prestigious university, struggled to find work because I had zero savvy about what school went well with what specialty, and worked in a small civil practice for 5 years, becoming more and more depressed as I went. Law is a great job for my *talents* but a toxic one for my *temperament.*

    My firm broke up and I lost my job, then decided to be a stay-at-home mom for 10 years. After that I wanted to do something different, but HOW?

    Luckily I had a friend who knew about a program at a big financial services company specifically made for mommy-track folks. It was basically an internship that led to a full time job if both parties were happy with the situation. (A lot of people in the program found out about it at https://www.irelaunch.com/, FYI – seems like a good resource)

    Also luckily, it was in information security, which is one of the hottest fields going. I’ve seen estimates that there will be 10 open positions for every qualified person in the next 5 years. This means it’s easier to get hired into security, risk, governance, and compliance jobs without having the perfect resume. I’m on the risk team and we look for people who can think, plan, create relationships, and get stuff done, not experts on risk.

    So yeah, after 5 years at that first company, I got courted for a job at a medical device company that my grandboss went to. Been there going on two years and it’s good work with good people, for a good company.

    I’m happy to answer any specific questions y’all might have!

  119. MissDisplaced*

    A story about an unsuccessful mid-life career change.

    My S.O. always wanted to work in the medical profession as a teen, either as a chiropractor, physical therapist or surgical nursing. But for many reasons (awful parents) his course of study was cut short as a young adult, and he was forced to get a job in construction. For many years he worked in construction. But construction is a young man’s game, and as he got into hi 30’s he switched over to IT and computer support where he did pretty well working for a big aerospace company. After 9/11 that all changed and after a protracted layoff he found IT work difficult to get back into as it now required a bachelors degree.

    After bouncing around some crap jobs, he made a decision he would go back to school for a medical job. He selected surgical technician as a the fastest means to an end, but he also got a certificate in phlebotomy, hoping this would at least get him a entry-point while he took classes. It never did, and he never got work in phlebotomy.

    Well, let me tell you the “rules” for becoming any type of medical technician are unbelievable. The schools REQUIRE you to repeat many classes you have already have taken, such as anatomy, biology, medical terminology, math, etc. Many of the same types of classes are also SPECIFIC to that program, and you can only take them at that particular school. He transferred schools/programs at one point, and so had to take some of the same classes over again even though he’d passed it at another college. It’s said that “they can’t take your education away from you,” but believe me in this field they can and do! They will negate most prior science education if it has been taken more than 5 year prior. Well finally, he did complete all of his classes to be surgical technician, and started his clinical in the hospital. Where he experienced issues.

    All this for a job that only pays, at best, $16/hour and mostly part-time. He said there was a definite bias against men in general in these fields, and especially somewhat older males. These classes are really designed for the young 18-year old who lives at home to go into–not a working adult. So even though he received very good grades and GPA academically, there were issues completing the program and no do-overs, because in nursing or medical fields you’re out if you bungle a single practical clinical exam.

    Basically he wasted almost 8 years and $30k, and only has a useless associate degree to show for it. He ended up back into something computer related that while not great, still pays better than the surg. tech job ever would have. I honestly don’t know where things went so sideways for him, but he’s now really stuck and in debt.

    The point of telling my S.O’s story is just that if you are mid-life really take a hard, practical look into your choice of career change, because their can be a lot of bias and other factors you may not even be aware of. And also I think it better to try to stick closer to what you may already have work experience in. I had initially tried to encourage my S.O. to pursue additional expertise/degree in construction management (such as project management or procurement) and/or IT security, because those likely would’ve been an easier “sell” to employers given his related career backgrounds. But instead he wanted to pursue his “lost dream” of a medical career, and sadly it became a failed dream and one that is hard to bounce back from in your late 40’s. :-(

    1. Nicotene*

      This is so sad, especially as people are always telling me I need to go into something more secure, like medical stuff or IT. There really is just no one way. I hope your SO finds a way to live some part of his dream, even if it’s just volunteering at blood drives or candy striping or something.

      I remember the wonderful health care assistants at my grandfather’s retirement home. They were all working SO HARD, multiple jobs and trying to go to school to get better paying jobs as nurses or similar. The technical college lost its credentials and they had nothing.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Unfortunately, the phlebotomy certification was also useless! You need several hundred “sticks” to get hired at any lab or blood bank. But you cannot get your required sticks without working at some type of externship. Catch-22. Fortunately, the phlebotomy classes didn’t cost too much, I think like $300. I actually paid for that for him, hoping he could get started with something and get a job while he was waiting to get into his program.

        And sadly, I hear that these healthcare workers are so very in demand… but man, they make it so difficult for adults with some college. I cannot believe they negate your previous education. In my field your university 100-level and up classes could never be considered “expired” or not counted for transfer as long as you passed with a C or better. Honestly, what changes in 5 years with human anatomy? Nothing. It’s just money-grubbing on the part of the colleges.

  120. iglwif*

    I sort of changed careers? Nothing as dramatic as accounting to TV writing, and I didn’t even technically change industries … but I did editorial work for 20 years and then switched to content marketing.

    It seemed dramatic to me because for many years I had been adamant that marketing and sales were Not For Me–but it turns out that when what you’re selling is a product or service that you think is really great, it’s actually pretty fun! (For me. YMMV.) I get to write a lot more than when I was an editor, which I enjoy; I no longer have to manage people, which I also enjoy (I mean, I enjoy NOT doing it); and I get to be a lot more playful and creative in my work, since I’m involved in social media, creating email campaigns and newsletters, and web design.

    I’m also working for a much smaller company, which, yes, has some drawbacks, but I personally love having lots of different stuff to do so the fact that I occasionally get to swing into work for teams outside of marketing is super fun for me.

    This isn’t necessarily the best example, because as I said, I’m still very much in the same industry; many of my professional contacts are the same, my sense of how the industry works has expanded but not fundamentally changed, my good reputation preceded me into my new role, etc. That said, after 20 years in the same sector of the same industry, it was still a scary leap! But I had become stressed out and burned out, a career I loved had turned into a job I dreaded going to almost every day, and I needed a change incredibly badly. I had to do something.

    So here’s what I did: I set myself up to do freelance work, I quit my job (with about 6 weeks’ notice; I was pretty senior), and I did freelance work for a while. (Again: probably not typical, since about half my freelance work came via people I knew through my old job.) Most of that work was editing, but I did pick up one client who wanted work closer to content marketing (newsletters and blog posts), and after a year, they offered me full-time (remote) work! And I’m SO GLAD I made that transition because I am much happier now.

      1. DG*

        I’d love to hear more, having just been laid off as an editor after many years, and looking into next steps/new industries (ideally not in publishing, but, y’know.). Anythign specific you can recommend in re course or practical experience that was useful? TY

  121. Barbara Eyiuche*

    I went to law school as a middle-aged woman, and it was a big mistake. I did well academically, but could not find an articling position or clerking position, which means I cannot work as a lawyer. The middle-aged men in my class had no trouble finding articles. The field in my area clearly seems sexist, but I don’t know what to do about it.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Before I went back to grad school for my M.A. in Communications at 40 (a natural progression in my career choice), I had considered going to law school instead. I was interested in communications law or maritime law, nothing exciting, and I well understood that this legal work is research heavy and, well, boring.
      I set up some appointments with actual attorneys to talk. Boy did I get a wake up call! All of them said it wasn’t a good idea! Not because I would be unable to do it academically, but because of starting out in law at that age. They all more or less said “don’t do it” unless your company was paying for you to go-and they were going to then use your law expertise in the company to save hiring a law firm. I was crestfallen, but glad they had been so honest about the reality.

      I’m so sorry it didn’t work out for you. Sexism wasn’t specifically mentioned as much as age being the factor, and I spoke to two women and one man. It was the man who was sent by his company. For the maritime lawyer, her father had started the firm years ago, so she came into the family business. She said it was difficult because there weren’t that many maritime attorneys and it was a lot of connections/networking to break into it.

  122. Lifelong student*

    Serial mid-life career changer here- married young, had children, worked several low level jobs from time to time. O got a job as a clerk at a local brokerage house- took courses and got an associates degree as a paralegal at about age 32. Did that for 15 years- in various legal areas- went back for a BS in accounting which I earned at 47. Became a CPA- did my time in public accounting for 4 years, did some instructing at a vocational school, moved into non-profit accounting/management. Got my MBA at age 56- began teaching part time at the local university and eventually moved to that as a full time. Retired now- but still not sure what I want to be when I grow up. BTW- all my academic programs were night programs.

  123. Tired Librarian*

    Is there anyone who was in management and one day decided they were done with that and switched careers? I’ve been managing people most of my career, from general supervisor in a restaurant to public library director. I don’t know how much longer I can do it. I was thinking of getting a degree to become a school librarian. I know I’d still have to deal with co-workers/a boss/managing students, but I feel like it would be better than all of the drama that I deal with now. Plus the part of my job I most enjoy is planning programs and teaching patrons and it’s a minuscule part of my job.

    In my dream life, I’d become a travel agent, but not such a good time for it and I’m not sure it’s very stable. As reference, I’m nearly 40, so still have about 25+ years left working.

    1. Also a tired librarian*

      I would say be very careful about going to library school for a degree. Whenever anyone asks me, I always caution them to be careful.
      First, I personally don’t think the job prospects are very good. A lot of libraries are still trying to recover from the first great recession that all this covid-related stuff doesn’t make for a lot of good funding for libraries. Libraries are always one of those things where people want immediately but don’t making the funding available to make it possible.
      Second, the salaries are very high for a school librarian unless you get into a private school (I think?). You’ll want to check out the salary statistics from Library Journal and the salary pay for librarians around your area. If you’re in a metropolitan area, of course the salary is higher but so is the cost of living. I think I saw a listing for a required MLIS and a second master’s degree for a librarian position in Georgia or Alabama for under $50k.
      And last is do you need the degree? While the MLIS/MLS/whatever other acronyms is required for a lot of libraries, school libraries often employ library technicians or in certain areas, library positions without the need for the master’s degree (although it’s often desired). You can always say that your years of experience make up for the degree (which can happen in a lot of government positions) but that’s not always the case.

      1. Tired Librarian*

        Thank you – that’s the conclusion I’ve come to as well. Part of me wishes I had done the MLS with school media instead of just a plain MLS while in grad school (hindsight blah blah blah…). I don’t want to jump into anything like I did with the first master’s. I think I’ll just sit for a while.

      2. Loves Libraries*

        Former school librarian here. My position was eliminated from my private school as was one other. The assistant position was eliminated too. The last remaining person retired after 1 year. The elementary position was replaced with a classroom teacher (who they wanted out of the classroom but couldn’t not renew). The secondary position was replaced with an assistant. All due to the bean counters wanting cheaper people.
        I couldn’t get hired at the local public library for a professional position or a clerical one. Don’t know why.

  124. Cafe Chortler*

    I’m on the cusp of such a change – moving from working in the film industry (events, film campaigns, etc) to getting my PsyD to become a psychologist. It’s weird timing to be going to school, but I’m glad I’m no longer reliant on film festivals for work given our stark new reality.

    I’m really excited to enter into a field that plays more to my strengths and interests, but I have found that about 6 months out from my grad school start date my self-employed work has taken a sharp tick upwards, making me a little sad to be leaving behind the money for some time… But as they say, there’s never a good time to {insert big life event here}.

  125. OtterB*

    My undergraduate degree is in computer science from the days when you still ran punch cards through a card reader. I worked in software development for about 8 years while going to school part time for an MBA (I discovered when I started work that I had excellent technical skills but really didn’t know much about business and I wanted to learn. My company was paying tuition reimbursement, so I was doing it to be better at my current job, not to make a career change.) My husband had a job transfer and, looking around at our new location, I decided to go back to school. I always thought I’d go back for a PhD at some point, but I’d intended to go back to computer science. Instead, the combination of work experience as a project leader and MBA coursework in organizational behavior really intrigued me, and I went back to school full time for 3 years for a PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. I had been thinking of becoming a consultant of some kind, but I discovered social science research and loved it. It was a great combination of my computing skills (analytical thought and number crunching) and my interest in how people thought. I worked for a while at a small nonprofit doing research on career decision making, and then switched to my current position at a nonprofit doing higher education statistics and research. I sometimes regret not diving into serious research and making a real contribution to the field, but (a) I make a contribution to the people who use my stats and reports, and (b) the nonprofit world worked really well for me as lower pressure and higher flexibility than either academia or business while we were raising two kids, one with special needs. (My experience; I know from AAM that lots of nonprofits are not especially accommodating.)

  126. Allison K*

    First career: actor/director. Second career: circus performer. Third career (now): writer/editor.

    All glam jobs that have that “get them young and chew them up” reputation. What helped each time was finding the non-glamorous but still fulfilling part of the industry that made money but wasn’t the most starring role, and picking a very very specific niche.

    As an actor/director I did a lot of guest artist work at universities and performing arts high schools. Much less competitive than Broadway or even regional theatre, I didn’t have to live in New York or LA, and had incredible latitude for my own creative choices. I specialized in mask and movement/physical theatre when very few people were doing that work (just before Julie Taymor hit big and she was the tide that lifted all the physical theatre boats).

    As a circus performer I never worked a tent show. I did college theatres, corporate events, and street performing at festivals around Europe. I never touched a trapeze before I was 25 and I went full time in my early 30s – no gymnastics and no family circus background. Again my timing got lucky. We performed aerial silks before everyone else did, and I designed a freestanding rig that let us work fancy parties without a place to rig in their ceiling. (In fact, we got a gig instead of Cirque du Soleil because they couldn’t rig it. Of course they were far more skilled but that wasn’t what was needed).

    As a writer, I’d written for fun and gotten an MFA in playwriting. Turns out the high school theatre market is hungry for new plays that are suitable but still challenging and funny, and they always pay their royalties. I started editing freelance, and then writing books. My years of experience in high schools made me the right person to write YA. Now I’m working on a book for writers editing their own work, and all my performance experience means I enjoy speaking at writing conferences and can teach pretty vibrantly.

    Someone said above to focus on transferable skills, and that’s key. All my jobs are self-employed and they all need a thick skin and a lot of persevering through rejection and not waiting for permission. After you’ve been booed by drunks (and Howard Stern), a literary agent or publisher rejection is nowhere near as painful. After passing the hat after street shows, I’m good at making people feel like giving me money is a great experience. And all that teaching really made me think about how words work and how to communicate ideas. I feel very lucky (and worked very hard), and it’s important to note I don’t have kids (though plenty of circus and street performers do) and that let me live close to the bone at the beginning.

  127. Anonymom*

    I did a career change a couple of years ago at 36, and I’m so glad I did. I worked as a freelance editor for 12+ years and found that I really craved a new challenge. I started applying at local companies and using Alison’s excellent advice, I was able to get a position with a Fortune 100 company in communications. Since then I’ve gotten a huge promotion and I love the work I’m doing. It was a great move for me, and I’m really glad I went for it!

  128. cleo*

    I changed careers twice – first in my mid twenties and then in my mid 40s. The first time wasn’t exactly a change, it just took me until I was 24 to find a sense of direction – once I had that, I went back to college to study design – I got a master of fine art (MFA) in industrial design and graduated in ’98. I discovered two unexpected things in grad school – web design and teaching.

    I taught art and design full time at a private, non-profit but career focused college for 16 years. I loved my job until I didn’t. I knew I was ready for a change, wasn’t sure what to do next and then I was laid off for budget reasons (that college has since merged with another college).

    So at the age of 44 I decided to change fields and practice web design full time rather than teaching it. 6 years later, I can say that it was a MUCH harder change than I expected but I’m (finally) confident that I pulled it off. I’m 8 months into a what’s going to be a 1 year contract working as the lead UX/ web designer for a site redesign and site migration for a department in a nationally recognized organization. I love what I’m doing and I’m reasonably confident that I will be able to find another good contract and that one of my next few contracts will turn into a full time job with benefits – my long term goal.

    Looking back, I was naive about what a big change I was making. I’d assumed that because I’d taught various web design and front end development classes and kept up my skills that it’d be an easy shift. But I didn’t realize how specialized web had become in the 15 – 20 years since I’d last tried to earn money as a web designer. I spent 3 or 4 years building my portfolio and my experience while doing freelance – and also just trying to get a handle on the field and where I wanted to fit it. I started off targeting higher ed and non-profits because that was where my network and my experience was and that worked pretty well.

    My big break in terms of actually making a living came when I got my first contract through a creative staffing agency. It was a full time, two month gig as a web developer building fundraising emails in Marketo for a university. Followed by a 4 month contract doing content entry for a huge site migration for an international corporation. Followed by my current contract – working at the same department as contract 1, but in a different role, doing what I really want to do.

    It was not easy – I couldn’t have done it without savings to fall back on and I don’t think I could have done it if my husband and I had kids. But as I say, it seems to be working. Before the pandemic, my plan was to look for my next job somewhere with a UX team so that I can learn on the job from other UX professionals – preferably in-house rather than an agency. Now I’ll probably widen my search to roles with less responsibility like content entry to pay the bill but I’m optimistic I’ll eventually land in a full time UX role.

    Things that helped:
    – Working with a job center that specialized in mid-career changes – when I signed up after my layoff, I hadn’t done a formal job search in 20 years
    – Lots of informational interviews
    – Contracts through creative staffing agencies, even though it took me years to break into the staffing agencies – I did tons of intake interviews with recruiters that never went anywhere and I got my break when a recruiter contacted me through LinkedIn – she was looking for someone with my skills who had experience working in higher ed.
    – Freelancing – even though I never made much money at it and working for myself was not good for my mental health, it was a useful means to an end.
    – Ask a Manager

    – I went to a free panel discussion about UX design put on by one of the staffing agencies I was signed up with and one of the companies that runs UX bootcamps. I was trying to decide if I needed to do a boot camp. One of the panelists recommended a design book that I’d read in grad school, studying industrial design. So that helped me realize that I had most of the knowledge necessary for UX, I just needed the experience.

  129. TechWorker*

    I’m interested by how many people are/have switched to tech.

    I do enjoy my job but I feel like I either need to have a slightly different role or, idk, grow into it because the last ~2 years have seen 2 promotions and A LOT of stress (I was pretty chilled the 4 years before that). I cannot imagine being this stressed for the next 30 years, I think it would kill me :p so at some point I either need to take a big pay cut or… find something that pays ok and I don’t lose sleep over. I’m not sure yet what that would be.

    1. rayray*

      I’ve been considering a coding boot camp for a while now, but it’s very difficult to commit to because it’s very demanding on top of full time work. I am now unemployed and have tried some basic classes on Khan Academy and Code Academy. I’ve heard that coding and programming isn’t as difficult as people might think. I didn’t pursue it in school because of the math courses that were required, but many people tell me that a lot of programmers aren’t using complicated math skills anyway. One person told me many of her colleagues at her software engineering job were former english majors like me.

      Another idea is to see if there are tech companies that might have positions related to the skillset you already have. Maybe you could be part of HR or payroll it you have those skills. There’s a GREAT ted talk about a tech startup that actually hired a bartender they all knew after he gave them his advice on a some issue they had at the company. Look up “Eric Berridge: Why tech needs the humanities”

      I don’t know if my advice is helpful or what you were looking for, but I think you could definitely look into options for learning new skills and earning certifications or you can find companies and try finding a job that suits you. Tech companies have plenty of room for more than just programmers!

      1. TechWorker*

        Haha sorry I was very confusing – I *do* work in tech – firstly as a programmer and now mostly managing programmers. I have a maths degree but I would totally agree it’s not really required for the job.

        I find it interesting because although I do like my field and get paid well I find it pretty stressful all told – so it’s interesting to me that loads of folks want to enter it :p

    2. A Person*

      I graduated with a degree in Biology, spent 2 years as an assistant in a lab, and another year in grad school before deciding the academic lifestyle was going to be a complete mess.

      After a year of temping and a year of weird hospital systems work I ended up learning SQL and eventually moved into data analytics in tech. I’m now up the chain in management and it pays really well, but it is definitely a bit stressful – but mostly from the management side!

      As the other person said, it’s important to find the niche that you’d be interested in with the company. Personally I love SQL and databases but I’m a bit meh on more serious programming – which makes me a good fit for a lot of the basic data needs that companies have.

  130. outdoorofficeworker*

    I made a successful transition from outdoor guiding work to a career in higher education. One of the challenges I started with was articulating how my skills were transferable to a new industry. A specific thing that helped me a LOT was attending a “dependable strengths” workshop (you can google it), which really helped me articulate my strengths, provide specific examples of them in different contexts, and explain how I could apply them to the new career I was seeking. This was incredibly valuable in cover letters and interviews. It would also be useful if you are looking to make a change but aren’t exactly sure what’s next for you.

    1. Emily Elizabeth*

      I would love to know more about your path and what higher ed position you found! I’m a couple years out of school and have a strong outdoor rec background – challenge courses, lots of camp, trip leading, etc. I’m currently a teacher and have been lucky to have a couple cycles of teaching during the school year/working camp or other seasonal rec work in the summers, and I would love to work full-time professionally in outdoor rec, but I’ve found that there’s very little available in between guiding for pennies and high level admin positions.

  131. periwinkle*

    I was in low-level IT for many years after dropping out of college. My last IT-focused job dried up suddenly when the startup company went poof. I went to temp work. After chatting with the staff at my primary care provider’s office, they hooked me up with the agency they use. That agency placed me in a temp all-purpose clerical role in a huge department of a major university-affiliated hospital. That’s around the time I started reading AAM – and I credit this site for what happened next!

    So I took Alison’s advice to heart, kicked ass in my little clerical role, and volunteered to do all sorts of whatever needed to be done. The HR administrator for this department (which had close to 400 employees, residents, and interns) was impressed enough to offer me a full-time job as her assistant. That started my second career in the HR realm. I took the SHRM 3-day overview course, talked regularly with the HR generalist that supported our department, and learned a lot. First thing I learned was that I would go nowhere without finishing my degree, so I did. I also learned that my interest was more along the HR development side (training, organizational performance) so I did a ton of research on that.

    I quit the hospital job and started working for a small recruitment agency (getting more HR experience) while pursuing a master’s degree in instructional design and organizational performance. Kicked ass enough in the program to be hired as a graduate research assistant, which led to writing short articles for our alumni social media, which led to being hired after graduation into an instructional design role by an alumni. Then a former classmate let me know about an opening on his team. Reading Alison’s guide on getting a job was KEY here – I used her magic question and wow, what a great response that got. I’ve been on that team ever since although I’ve moved laterally around (we re-org a lot).

    So that’s how I went from IT peon to HR, well, peon (but a happy peon). I finished my bachelor’s at age 44, graduated with the master’s at age 47, and started my first day at my current Fortune 100 employer a month before my 49th birthday.

  132. Bonehouse*

    It seems like a lot of people seem to quit a job that’s perceived as boring/stable to pursue their dreams…I kind of did the opposite. I worked as a geologist until I was 30. It wasn’t the job of my dreams but the work was interesting and it paid quite well. However, I eventually left the field and ended up working as (drumroll) a mail carrier.

    Geology was great but it involved a lot of travel – as in, the job I had for the longest required 50% of my time to be spent in mining camp, and that was about the best schedule you can get as a field geologist. It’s also fairly unstable, so you always have to be hustling for a new opportunity, which I found to be draining.

    I took a few months off and was applying for jobs with no clear idea of what I wanted to do. It’s tough working in highly specialized fields because I had no idea what transferrable skills I had, so applying for jobs was tricky. I ended up getting a job delivering mail and it’s been pretty great. It’s stable, it keeps me in the city I want to live in, and best of all it’s not a job I have to be particularly invested in (as long as the work gets done). I’ve used my extra time and mental energy to invest in my community anddig into my creative pursuits, which I was never able to do before, and I’ve found a lot of success there! So basically I switched to a “day” job (vs a “career”) that allows me to live a much better life overall.

  133. BeenThere*

    I’m not sure my experience would apply in these days of Covid-19. I was so lucky, although sometimes, it didn’t seem that way.
    My first jobs were in the printing field. For 13 years, I did everything from delivery and bindery work, to negative assembly and platemaking (those jobs are all computerized now), to job planning and customer service. I did everything except run a press (women just did not run presses back in those days). I stayed in that field until the day I got fired for marrying my boss (they just fired me instead of talking to both my husband and me.)
    So, with my husband still employed, we downsized to a smaller, less expensive house, and I went to college. He had pointed out that I loved reading and writing–why didn’t I study that? So I got my BA and MA English Literature and a certificate in Technical Writing.
    I taught college composition for several years after graduation as an adjunct instructor (interesting job with little pay and no benefits). Then one of my former printing company employers needed some instructions written on how to operate a new automation program, so I did that on the side.
    At about the same time, a friend of a friend was a higher-up in a software company. She like me when we met, and she helped me get a technical writing job at her employer. It was during the first tech boom, when almost anyone who knew how to punctuate could get a tech writing job (that’s an exaggeration, I think). My education, the little set of instructions, and the personal connection was enough to get me a job.
    Then alas, after not quite a year, I was laid off, and stayed unemployed for a year. But I had solid samples, good experi